November 13

This Day in History

Cold War

Nov 13, 1953:

Indiana Textbook Commission member charges that Robin Hood is communistic

In an example of the absurd lengths to which the "Red Scare" in America is going, Mrs. Thomas J. White of the Indiana Textbook Commission, calls for the removal of references to the book Robin Hood from textbooks used by the state's schools. Mrs. Young claimed that there was "a Communist directive in education now to stress the story of Robin Hood because he robbed the rich and gave it to the poor. That's the Communist line. It's just a smearing of law and order and anything that disrupts law and order is their meat." She went on to attack Quakers because they "don't believe in fighting wars." This philosophy, she argued, played into communist hands. Though she later stated that she never argued for the removal of texts mentioning the story from school textbooks, she continued to claim that the "take from the rich and give to the poor" theme was the "Communist's favorite policy." Reacting to criticisms of her stance, she countered that, "Because I'm trying to get Communist writers out of textbooks, my name is mud. Evidently I'm drawing blood or they wouldn't make such an issue out of it." The response to Mrs. White's charges was mixed.

Indiana Governor George Craig came to the defense of Quakers, but backed away from getting involved in the textbook issue. The state superintendent of education went so far as to reread the book before deciding that it should not be banned. However, he did feel that "Communists have gone to work twisting the meaning of the Robin Hood legend." The Indianapolis superintendent of schools also did not want the book banned, claiming that he could not find anything particularly subversive about the story. In the Soviet Union, commentators had a field day with the story. One joked that the "enrollment of Robin Hood in the Communist Party can only make sensible people laugh." The current sheriff of Nottingham was appalled, crying, "Robin Hood was no communist."

As silly as the episode seems in retrospect, the attacks on freedom of expression during the Red Scare in the United States resulted in a number of books being banned from public libraries and schools during the 1950s and 1960s because of their supposedly subversive content. Such well known books as John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo, were just some of the books often pulled from shelves. Hollywood films also felt the pressure to conform to more suitably "all-American" themes and stories, and rock and roll music was decried by some as communist-inspired.

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