Brunswick County School Board may consider banning The Color Purple

Parents and community members brought concerns about language and inappropriate content in Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple to Brunswick County school board members last week, prompting a discussion that will take place next Tuesday at the board’s monthly meeting regarding the future of the book’s availability to public school students, according to school board chair Charles Miller.colorpurple

“We’ve been contacted by parents across the community with concerns about language,” said Miller, who is also chief deputy in the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office. “One grandfather contacted me and brought me excerpts of the book. I have since ordered the book and started reading it myself.”

The Color Purple takes place in rural Georgia and focuses on the plight of southern Black women during the Depression era. Rape, violence, racism and sexism are common themes in the novel. The book is taught across the United States as part of the AP English curriculum. The Color Purple has been referenced five years out of the last 15 on the AP English Literature and Composition exam, according to The College Board.

“I can’t stand it,” said Catherine Cook, a Brunswick County school board member who says she has also ordered the book to read, but does not enjoy it. “The language is awful, the first two pages…is totally…it’s just…not good.”

“My child, who is in the 9th grade, will not be reading it if he’s in AP English in two years,” Cook said. “It’s not age-appropriate. The job of the school board is to determine age-appropriate reading for the class setting. I am concerned that this book does not have accessible language.”

Brunswick County Schools Superintendent Edward Pruden, who also just read the book, explained that the school district has a process by which they receive concerns from the community about materials in the curriculum.

“I don’t think parents want books banned as much as an opportunity to request an alternative to a book,” said Pruden. Last year, Brunswick County began sending home letters to all English students’ parents at the beginning of each semester listing the books to be read during that course. Parents could opt out of their child reading any book if they found the material offensive.

“We have actually revised the letter, which will be sent out this Thursday, to include a link to the American Library Association’s list of 100 most frequently challenged books of the last decade,” said Pruden, “so that parents could know in advance if a book on the reading list is controversial.” Pruden said the decision to do that was made after a minister came to him explaining that parents should know in advance if a book is controversial, because many parents may not know The Color Purple.

The school board plans to discuss the future of The Color Purple in Brunswick County Schools next week. “Whether or not we will ban it or take it off the reading list,” said Miller, “I can’t say at this point.”

The Brunswick County Board of Education will meet next Tuesday, November 5 at 6:30pm in the Commissioner’s chambers in Bolivia, NC.


  1. Gene Hoglan

    October 30, 2013 at 11:12 am

    It’s only “controversial” because of childish idiots like these so-called parents who can’t handle literature written at a level beyond Superfudge.

    If people want to know why our education system is failing our children it’s because of these clowns.

  2. HunterC

    October 30, 2013 at 11:34 am

    Just a fun fact: The movie version of The Color Purple was filmed in NC.

  3. kcwc

    October 30, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    Here’s the thing: if a student or a student’s parent decides to “opt out” of a book, that creates practical problems for the teacher. Does the teacher have to provide an alternate curriculum for that student? What if the parent doesn’t like the new book? Suppose a teacher is focusing on, say, the development of the Slave Narrative in literature, and has the students read Frederick Douglass and then Beloved, and the parent objects to Beloved because it includes sex or ghost stories or violence or insanity or whatever. So the teacher, who doesn’t have anything else to do, apparently, and is of course compensated handsomely for all this individualized instruction, then offers the student Malcolm X. It’s entirely possible that Malcolm won’t be acceptable to the parent either, because it includes violence or crime or poverty or race mixing or Islam. (Never mind that all three of these are among the most important works in American literature). What is the teacher supposed to do? Stop trying to teach the students new things, I guess.
    School isn’t supposed to be about confirming biases and protecting us from ideas. Quite the opposite.

  4. Skeptic

    October 30, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    Gene Hoglan has it exactly right. Americans need to grow up and accept that sex, trauma, etc. are part of life. For the record, “The Color Purple” is age-appropriate for an HS upper classman. The age of consent is 18….

  5. Myron B. Pitts

    October 30, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    I see much was learned from the flap in Randolph County over “Invisible Man,” where the school board banned the book then sheepishly reversed itself.

    I like how these folks with the Brunswick board are being exposed to good literature almost against their will, many of them having “just read” The Color Purple or just “ordered it to read.”

    It also won the National Book Award, in addition to the Pulitzer, incidentally.

    Enjoy Brunswick County! I’m sure the publisher appreciates both the attention and sales.

    As an additional irony, the play, which is based on the book, came to the county just last year.

  6. Autry

    October 30, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    The Color Purple is a wonderful book, on of my favorites, that deals with some tough issues. I read it as a teen and have no problem with my children reading it when they are in high school. Teens witness a lot worse on video games and tv. Anyone who thinks a 16 year old can’t handle this book is living in a bubble.

  7. Katherine Cagle

    October 30, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    When my mother was in her 70s she was reading The Color Purple. I remember picking it up, reading the first couple of pages and thinking I couldn’t believe my mother was reading a book with such raw language. Then I read a few more pages and just couldn’t put it down. I don’t remember if the language became more refined, or if I just didn’t notice anymore, but it is one of the best books I have ever read! High school students are certainly old enough to read the book and I hope they do, even if the school board does decide to ban it.

  8. Katy Musolino

    October 31, 2013 at 8:08 am

    The Color Purple is one of those books that I revisit on a regular basis, because of it’s celebration of the strength of the human spirit, regardless of adversity. It’s also an honest, realistic portrayal of the difficulties life can impose. And it’s a wonderfully written story that I can’t put down, once I start reading it. And I’ve already read it at least a dozen times. How can anyone want to ban such a book?

  9. […] Brunswick County Board of Education also has a big vote coming up tomorrow night – whether to ban Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color […]

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