The New York Times|
Feb. 27, 1947
EDUCATION BOARD BANS 'PAINE' BOOK
Lone Dissenter Declares That 'Lascivious Passages Are Quickly Forgotten'
By a vote of 6 to 1 the Board of Education yesterday banned Howard Fast's historical novel, "Citizen Tom Paine," from the public school libraries of New York City. This action, based upon allegedly vulgar passages in the book, upheld recommendations of the Board of Superintendents and the Committee on Instructional Affairs.
The lone dissenting vote came from Maximillan Moss, representative from Brooklyn. He declared that he had "considered the book in its entirety" and did not wish "to condone certain passages or expressions," but that "the lascivious and objectionable passages are quickly forgotten in the overall effect of the book."
Before the vote was taken representatives of eleven organizations rose to condemn banning of the novel. No one appeared in the board's headquarters at 110 Livingston Street, Brooklyn, to defend the removal of the book. Two hundred spectators crowded the board room.
Offer by Publishers
Superintendent of Schools John E. Wade said the publishers of the volume had offered earlier in the day to issue a special school edition. After the meeting Mr. Wade Mr. Moss and George A. Timone, a member from Manhattan, agreed that if the "objectionable passages" were removed the book probably would be acceptable to the school authorities.
Mr. Fast asserted at his home last night that any statement that his publisher Duell, Sloan Pearce, or he had agreed to an expurgated version of "Citizen Tom Paine" was "a deliberate distortion of the facts."
"The publisher," Mr. Fast said, "asked the Board of Education to submit a bill of particulars. I stated that if the city school system were to order a special edition I would allow that edition to be prepared as a textbook. No changes are being made or will be made in any regular or reprint edition of the book."
Among those who took the floor to attack the ban were Benjamin Davis and Peter V. Cacchione, Communist members of the City Council; A. J. Liebling, writer, who represented the Progressive Citizens of America; Marc Connelly, playwright, and Paul O'Dwyer, who represented the National Lawyers Guild. He is a brother of Mayor O'Dwyer.
Before the discussion started Andrew G. Clauson Jr., president of the Board of Education, said it was the school officials' duty "to select from the very great number of published works those best adapted to children and adolescents and those most pertinent to the school curriculum."
He pointed out that other books by Mr. Fast were on the approved list for school use and that "other material on the life of Thomas Paine and his writings have been on our lists for some time." He denied that the issue was freedom of the press, Mr. Fast or Thomas Paine or his writings.
Lengthy Attack by Davis
A lengthy attack on the ban, on the board, on the forces of fascism and on two other books was delivered by Councilman Davis. He called for the board to make a "public apology to Mr. Fast" and warned of an investigation of the board by the City Council.
The two books that Mr. Davis wanted removed from the school libraries were "Lanterns on the Levee" by the late William Alexander Percy and "How to Create Cartoons" by Frank F. Greene. He charged that the former book showed Negroes in an unfavorable light and that the latter depicted racial stereotypes that belittled Negroes, Mexicans, Jews and Irishmen.
While Mr. Davis was attempting to read passages from the Percy volume he was interrupted by Mr. Clauson, who said the book had been removed from the approved list "years ago."
Regarding the cartoon book, Mr. Wade declared that although the volume was on the approved list, "it is on the way off."
As Mr. Davis resumed his questioning of the board's motives, James Marshall, member from Manhattan, exclaimed that "we are not here to be cross-examined by the speakers." Mr. Davis rejoinder was that "anyone can question me on the City Council."
Mr. Liebling's attack on the ban of "Citizen Tom Paine" was accompanied by clippings from two New York City newspapers, one an afternoon paper and one a tabloid. After he had established that both papers were circulated in the school system if principals desired to approve them, Mr. Liebling read several passages describing sex crimes and gangster exploits.