Here is historian Cynthia Greenlee at The New York Times:
In May 1959, the former Alabama schoolteacher Dora Haynes Parker mused about the sexual habits and matrimonial customs of rabbits in a letter to her hometown newspaper, The Montgomery Advertiser. After sharing her bona fides — college graduate, respectable matriarch, savant about educational illustrations — Parker wrote: “Now rabbits as I know rabbits may have some problems, but not the problem of marriage. Indeed, of all the animals perhaps this family is among the most ardent practitioners of free love.”
It was an odd but not random set of observations. Her letter, topped by the headline “Tell It to Old Grandma,” was both book review and pointed defense of the white South. She was adding her two cents to a nasty national argument about a 1958 children’s book, “The Rabbits’ Wedding,” by the celebrated illustrator Garth Williams.
Williams’s drawings had enlivened E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web,” Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” series and Little Golden Book titles, among many other beloved classics. But this slender picture book was his own. And it featured a cute, furry couple: a male black rabbit and his white female playmate, who becomes, over the course of the 32-page book, his bride.
The rabbits’ “interracial” union had inflamed Montgomery’s chapter of the White Citizens’ Council, whose members argued that the book amounted to grooming by literary means, conditioning preschoolers to cross the color line. Essentially a white-supremacist chamber of commerce, with a fast-growing network across the South in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education desegregation decision in 1954, the council used its dollars and clout to stoke economic intimidation and violence against the burgeoning civil rights movement. These segregationists were ideological ancestors of today’s book challengers, such as those in a Florida school district that recently banned “And Tango Makes Three,” about two male chinstrap penguins who create a family. Across time, those who ban books have shared a deep aversion to anything that promotes changing definitions of marriage and family. (Indeed, “And Tango Makes Three” has been challenged many times before.)
Read the rest here. I found this Associated Press clip from May 23, 1959:
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