Ashland, Ore. — A book cover at a locally owned Ashland bookstore has sparked a conversation about racial sensitivity in society. As a result, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has asked their staff not to make work-related purchases at Shakespeare Books and Antiques. Both sides tell NBC5 News it started when four OSF actors saw “Little Black Sambo” on display, and asked the owner Judi Honoré to change it.
The book is banned through a variety of publications, all available online. The children’s book cover in question has a young child with dark skin holding an umbrella next to a tiger.
“They said to me, ‘why do you have “the Wizard of Oz” next to “Little Black Sambo?”‘ and I said ‘because they’re both banned books,'” Honoré said.
OSF Associate Director of Communication Eddie Wallace agreed, and said Honoré is not a racist.
“It just gave them pause, and said, ‘wow, that’s a little offensive, a little hurtful, maybe we can talk to the bookstore owner,'” Wallace said.
The actors went inside the bookstore, and began speaking with Honoré.
“They said, ‘well, we’re actors in the play “The Wiz,” and we’d like you to move it,'” Honoré said. “And [I] said ‘ok, great, come in, and we’ll move it together.'”
Honoré told NBC5 News the group relocated the book, shared hugs, and left.
“I thought that was great, and it was all over, and within an hour, I received a call from Cynthia Rider, the Executive Director of OSF,” Honoré said. “She said, ‘I would like to come meet with you to discuss with you protecting my staff.'”
Cynthia Rider was not available for comment on Thursday.
Wallace said since then, emails between the parties have been exchanged. Honoré has since moved the book to the banned books for racism display, which is visible from the sidewalk, however the spine now faces the window so the cover isn’t visible.
“I’ve been told I’m ignorant, I’ve been told I just don’t understand, I’ve been told I’m racist, and I’ve been told I don’t get it, and I guess I don’t get it,” Honoré said.
In the last several months, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has been spearheading a discussion on racism in the community, after racially charged threats and comments were made to two of their employees.
“It’s just an issue of sensitivity of the display, absolutely,” Wallace said.
Rider and Artistic Director Bill Rauch have since instructed staff not to patronize Honoré’s store for any festival related goods or services.
“We have to look at things with fresh eyes, and things that may not have jumped out at us before, are jumping out now, and it’s time to have a discussion about it,” Wallace said. “OSF has always been about free speech and defying censorship.”
Meanwhile Honoré said she means no harm, and sells the books for educational reasons.
“‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’ ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ I could name so many, there are lots and lots of books that are filled with racism, but the only way that we’re going to learn from our past mistakes is to look at them, we can’t hide them in a drawer, we can’t ignore them,” Honoré said. “My position is that I stood up for my rights, I stood up for what I feel is right.”