THE FIRST GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL
The summer between fifth and sixth grades I went to the Columbus Boychoir Summer Camp at Fred Waring's estate at Shawnee on the Delaware in Pennsylvania. One of the adult counselors loaned me a copy of Huckelberry Finn. I read it, but thought it rather childish. At the time, I was more interested in modern European history and works about classical Greece, Rome and Napoleon. I didn't read Huckleberry Finn again until Freshman year at Yale. Then I realized what a great work of literature it is.
Today, many school districts censor Huckleberry Finn because of its use of the 'N' word. Though I've heard many blacks use the term among themselves. Situations and words change. I just recently found out that it's considered bad taste to use the word 'Negro.' But that's how Martin Luther king, Jr. labeled himself. And when I was in junior high school, my Mother bought vegetable soup from a woman who called herself 'colored.' My maternal grandfather called the cast iron black-faced jockey in his driveway, 'darkey.'
I even remember seeing a Minstrel Show at my Dad's church with actors and singers in blackface. The first talking picture featured Al Jolson in blackface. A few years ago, when I helped my Mother move to a retirement community, I came across an unused boxed tube of blackface in her garage. I gave it to my black lawyer friend, Noah Griffin, who had sung with the Fisk Jubilee Singers. He was fascinated to receive it. How overly sensitive we've become. I'm not in favor of blackface today. I would never use the 'N' word, myself. But at the same time, I would never censor the Great American Novel Huckleberry Finn. After all, I changed my own opinion about its worth.