The Rabbits’ Wedding, by Garth Williams, is a children’s book about two rabbits getting married in a forest. While there doesn’t seem to be much to object about the book, in 1959, Alabama State Senator E.O. Eddins wanted it removed from Alabama public libraries. The reason was because the rabbits in the story were of different fur colors, black and white, and he viewed it as “integration propaganda.”
Emily Wheelock Reed, the Director of the Public Library Service Division of Alabama, met with Eddins and the Alabama State Senate Interim Taxation Committee to discuss the upcoming budget in March of 1959. Eddins, however, wanted to speak about several books in the public libraries that he thought dealt with segregation and communism. Reed deflected, but she was confronted by Eddins again several months later and he demanded The Rabbits’ Wedding be removed from the libraries. Reed refused to abide by his demands .
By not giving in, Reed put the funding for Alabama’s public libraries at risk as Eddins threatened to not pass her budget. Reed compromised and placed the book in a special section for racially controversial materials, a section that remained on open shelves and accessible to the public. But Reed evoked Eddins’ wrath again by adding Martin Luther King’s book, Stride Towards Freedom, along with the rest of the ALA’s list of Notable Books of 1958, into the collection. As a result, the Senate’s Segregationist Screen Committee changed the requirements for Reed’s position as director. One member of the committee noted, “That while the new qualifications would not apply to Miss Reed, he had ‘no reason to believe she would be retained, if good cause was shown for her discharge'” .
Despite this move, the state, and Eddins himself, would try to put distance from the controversy as it gained local and nationwide attention, with reporters coming down critically on the state’s attempt to remove the book on rabbits getting married . Even the author, Garth Williams, weighed in by saying that the book was for children and not for adults who wouldn’t understand it. He stated, “I was completely unaware that animals with white fur, such as white polar bears and white dogs and white rabbits, were considered blood relations of white human beings” .
While she wasn’t fired from her job, Reed would soon leave Alabama for a position at the District of Columbia Public Library in 1960. Reflecting back on the incident, Reed said, “I couldn’t believe that anybody would get excited about rabbits, for heaven’s sake!” While the attempted book ban was covered in ALA’s Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom with praise from Reed’s efforts, she did not receive support from ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. But her case raised the urgent issue of segregation and censorship in southern libraries to the committee .
As a charter member of the Freedom to Read Foundation and for her efforts in preserving her professional ethics and for refusing to give into the pressure of the Alabama State Senate, Reed received the Freedom to Read Foundation’s Roll of Honor Award in 2000. Reed died a few weeks before the ceremony and her nephew accepted the award on her behalf . During the awards ceremony, Candance Morgan, president of the Freedom to Read Foundation, said of Reed, “The integrity shown by Emily Reed in midst of a firestorm epitomizes what the Roll of Honor stands for” .
- Patterson Toby Graham, “Public Librarians and the Civil Rights Movement: Alabama, 1955-1965” in The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy 71, No. 1 (January 2001): 1-27.
- “Two Librarians, Courage, and Common Sense,” in Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom 8, no. 3 (September 1959): 1-2.
- Elaine Woo, “Emily Reed; Librarian Resisted Racists,” Los Angeles Times (June 5, 2000), https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2000-jun-05-me-37597-story.html.
- “Emily Wheelock Reed,” Freedom to Read Foundation, https://www.ftrf.org/members/?id=15163788.
- “Welcomed to the Limelight: ALA Award Winners 2000,” in American Libraries 31, no. 8 (September 2000): 86-94.