The Topic

By idgie57
26 Jun 2018

The Association for Library Service to Children has decreed that Laura Ingalls Wilder “includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values,” and is no longer deserving of an award bearing her name.


he issue is racism. Let's examine a few passages from Laura's works:

“Then the doctor came. And he was the black man. Laura had never seen a black man before and she could not take her eyes off Dr. Tan. He was so very black. She would have been afraid of him if she had not liked him so much. He smiled at her with all his white teeth. He talked with Pa and Ma, and laughed a rolling, jolly laugh. They all wanted him to stay longer, but he had to hurry away.”

There is courage in looking at history – and historical fiction – and daring to learn from it. This was an act of cowardice. The Association for Library Service to Children should be ashamed.

“'That Indian was perfectly friendly,' (Pa) said. 'And their camps down among the bluffs are peaceable enough. If we treat them well and watch Jack (the bulldog), we won't have any trouble.'”

“...Laura saw Jack standing in the Indian trail...Before him in the path, the tall Indian sat on his pony...(Pa) dragged jack out of the Indian's way, and the Indian rode on...'That was a close call!' Pa said. 'Well, it's his path. An Indian trail, long before we came.'”

“(Laura said) 'But, Pa, I thought this was Indian Territory. Won't it make the Indians mad to have to (leave) – '”

“'The only good Indian is a dead Indian,'” Mr. Scott said... Pa said he didn't know about that. He figured that Indians would be as peaceable as anybody else if they were let alone. On the other hand, they had been moved west so many times that naturally they hated white folks...”

So where's the racism?


n the above passages from Little House on the Prairie, Laura expresses a fondness of (and gratitude to) Dr. Tan, who doctored the settlers suffering from malaria. She relates her father's empathy for the Indians, including his rebuttal to Mr. Scott's assertion – and indeed, in the end of the book, when the Ingalls family is forced to leave the home they had established, illustrates that even the white settlers were forced to leave the land they loved and tended, thus experiencing the same heartbreak of displacement as those native Americans.


n that Laura penned a much more enthusiastic (and thus perceived as approbative) description of the minstrel show presented by the founding members of DeSmet in Little Town on the Prairie, the primary basis for the “evidence” of racist themes in her books is thereby supposedly established:

Little Town on the Prairie
“When the five darkies suddenly raced down the aisle and were gone, everyone was weak from excitement and laughing. It did not seem possible that the whole evening had gone. The famous minstrel shows in New York surely could not be better than that (Literary Society) minstrel show had been...”


owever the elite wish to eradicate the past, the fact remains that minstrel shows were a significant component of American musical performance history. As John Kendrick writes on, “...minstrelsy provided African American performers with their first professional stage outlet,” and “Both white and black performers donned blackface, and audiences of all colors loved it.” Therefore, Laura simply relates an episode of entertainment that was common enough in her youth, using the verbiage of the time.


elective nit-picking in the name of Social Justice is no virtue, and such a narrow focus blinds its proponents to the true nature and intent of Laura's writings. As Donald Zochert wrote in Laura: The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder:

Laura: The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder:
“Looking back on her books, Laura herself tried to say what they had shown her. 'Running through all the stories,' she said, 'like a golden thread, is the same thought of the values of life. They were courage, self reliance, independence, integrity and helpfulness. Cheerfulness and humor were handmaids to courage.'”


here is courage in looking at history – and historical fiction – and daring to learn from it. This was an act of cowardice. The Association for Library Service to Children should be ashamed.