Minnesota district drops 2 classic novels, citing racial slurs

DULUTH, Minn. -- Two classic American novels will no longer be required reading in eastern Minnesota schools because they contain racial slurs.

"The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" will be dropped from the Duluth school district's English classes next year. School officials said the move is part of an effort to be considerate to all students, particularly students of color.

District Director of Curriculum and Instruction Michael Cary told the Star Tribune that the decision follows years of concerns shared by parents, students and community groups.

The controversy over the two classic novels has been debated in school districts across the country.

Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" was published in 1960. Lee writes about a small town in the south and a white Depression-era lawyer, who defends a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. The novel was taught to ninth graders in the Duluth school district.

"The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" was written by Mark Twain. The 1885 novel is about a friendship between a young white boy and a runaway slave as they escape down the Mississippi River. It was taught in 11th grade.

"The feedback that we've received is that it makes many students feel uncomfortable," said Cary. "Conversations about race are an important topic, and we want to make sure we address those conversations in a way that works well for all of our students."

The books are still available for optional reading.

Stephan Witherspoon, president of the NAACP's Duluth chapter, said the move is "long overdue" because the literature has "oppressive language." He said there are other novels with similar messages that can be used instead.

"Our kids don't need to read the 'N' word in school," Witherspoon said. "They deal with that every day out in the community and in their life. Racism still exists in a very big way."

The district hasn't yet determined what books will replace the classic novels.