1958 Rabbits’ Wedding (Children’s Book Removed From Circulation)

Segregation

Obsessed with maintaining segregation at all costs, Alabama removed this children’s book from library general circulation in 1958 because it depicted a rabbit with black fur marrying a rabbit with white fur.

On April 30, 1958, Harper & Row published The Rabbits’ Wedding,” a children’s picture book many people had never heard of until it was criticized by lawmakers in the Deep South. In Alabama in 1959, segregationist citizens and lawmakers wanted “The Rabbits’ Wedding” pulled from the shelves of the state library — and one state senator wanted it burned. In between the covers, on lushly drawn and painted pages, a black male rabbit marries a white female rabbit in a moonlit ceremony in a forest on the edge of a meadow.

The White Citizens Council of Montgomery, Alabama, attacked the book, claiming that it promoted interracial marriage in defiance of the laws against miscegenation. Against such attacks, the book found an advocate in Emily Wheelock Reed, director of the Alabama Public Library Service Division, whose job it was to provide libraries throughout the state with the books they requested. Alabama State Senator E.O. Eddins, who helped oversee library funding, suggested that the book — by the illustrator of “Charlotte’s Web,” “Stuart Little” and “Little House on the Prairie” — should be incinerated. Eddins said the book’s goal was to promote integration and interracial marriage to impressionable three-to-seven-year-old children. He questioned the motives of librarian Emily Wheelock Reed, on whose watch the favorably reviewed book was purchased by Alabama Public Library Service. As director of the library service she was the de-facto state librarian. In budget meetings, Reed refused to discuss her views on segregation and would not strip the book from her APLS holdings in Montgomery. She placed the book on the reserve shelf at the APLS, which was headquartered at the time in the State Archive Building across the street from the State Capitol. On the front steps of that capitol, Jefferson Davis was sworn in as the President of the Confederacy. A hundred years later the capitol was the terminus for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery.

Reed (who said she enjoyed the book) complied to the extent that she moved it away from general circulation and instead put it on reserve, available upon request; this made the book still accessible to local librarians and thus was not a ban of the book: “We have had difficulty with the book, but we have not lost our integrity”. Before the year was over, segregationists again found fault with Reed, who distributed a reading list that included various controversial titles including Martin Luther King Jr.’s book Stride Toward Freedom.