The viewer then proceeds through the exhibition by using a drop-down menu encompassing many different aspects of the history of censorship in the U.S., including but not limited to: “Virginia is for Censors?;” “Margaret Sanger;” “Reference and Religion;” “Silenced Minorities;” “Writers Speak;” “Banned, Burned and Bowdlerized;” “Wrath of Grapes?;” “For the Cause;” “The Objectivity of Science;” “The Eyes of a Child;” “Artistic Expression;” “Web Filtering and the Internet;” and many others. Due to lack of space, this author will not recount the contents of every section of this exhibition; rather, this review will take the reader through a few sections to give a sample of the flavor and richness of the University of Virginia’s exhibition.
Each category in this drop-down menu leads to its own mini-exhibition, complete with explanatory text and digitized images of the censored items in question: for instance, “Virginia is for Censors?” leads to an explanatory text about the banning of Harper Lee’s classic novel about American race relations, To Kill A Mockingbird, by Virginia’s Hanover County School Board. This section includes clear digitized reproductions of the cover of the book itself, as well as correspondence between the book’s author and the local Hanover County Newspaper.
Similarly, the “Margaret Sanger” section leads to an introduction that contextualizes Ms. Sanger’s fight to distribute printed birth control information, together with clear images of some of Sanger’s more controversial publications such as the 1920 pamphlet What Every Girl Should Know and photos of Sanger being dragged off to jail for opening the nation’s first family planning clinic in Brooklyn, New York. Also reproduced is a printed speech by T.B. Wakeman arguing against the Comstock Laws, so named for after Anthony Comstock, secretary of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice; these laws, though largely unenforced, remain on the books today and among other things forbid the distribution of birth control information via the U.S. Postal Service mail.
“Reference and Religious Works” is a fascinating section that explains the history of the suppression of dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference works, including those by Diderot , Thomas Paine, and Daniel Webster. This section also explores the role of the Catholic Church in putting its Imprimatur (Latin for "let it be printed") stamp on books with content of significance to religion, theology, and morality.
The “Silenced Minorities” section deals with the past, and present, suppression of contested works by women, African Americans, and gay men and lesbians. Examples pictured in this section range from George Eliot’s Adam Bede and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar to Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Malcolm X’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and Rita Mae Brown’s 1973 seminal lesbian novel, Rubyfruit Jungle. Many of these works – especially the post 1960s material – are still the subject of ongoing censorship battles in schools and libraries across the country today.