This week is Banned Books Week, a celebration of Americans' access to books that have been deemed controversial, unacceptable, or otherwise restricted or censored.
Our beloved Bluegrass State has the dubious honor of being the setting for the first section of one of the most controversial and frequently banned books in the history of American literature. Uncle Tom's Cabin, written in 1852 by a Connecticut native and abolitionist named Harriet Beecher Stowe, the book was a response to the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, which required the return of runaway slaves to their masters.
Uncle Tom's Cabin would go on to be the second-best-selling book of the 19th century (second only to the Bible), but it did not receive universal praise. At the time of its publication, many slave owners and Southern sympathizers felt that the harsh depictions of slavery found in the book were unfair, while abolitionists considered the work a catalyst for social change. In fact, when President Abraham Lincoln met Mrs. Stowe, he said: “so this is the little lady who made this big war.”
In recent years, the novel has come under fire for use of racial epithets and for the reduction of African-American characters to tropes. However, the role that Mrs. Stowe's novel played in heightening awareness of the conditions of slavery cannot be underestimated.
This week, HerKentucky urges you to read a banned book and to remember the crucial power of controversy in the written word.