Book Banning Fought in Long Beach

By: 
Gerrie Schipske
Blanche Collins

It may surprise readers that each year, libraries across America observe “Banned Book Week.”  This year the week was observed on Sept. 24-30 under the theme: “Our Right to Read.”

For those of you who think the banning of books is a thing of the past, please understand that books are still being banned in some parts of the country even though it is pretty clear that the First Amendment guarantees all of us the freedom to read. In fact, the Banned Books Week Coalition, which is an alliance of organizations joined by a commitment to increase awareness of the annual celebration of the freedom to read, complies the “Top Ten Books Banned” each year.

Censorship was certainly front and center in Long Beach in 1960. That was the year  when Long Beach’s newly appointed head librarian, Blanche Collins, approved the purchase of the book “The Last Temptation of Christ,” by Nikos Kazantzakis.

The book was in circulation for two years before someone complained. That someone was part of an orchestrated attempt in Southern California to remove books that were considered by some as “blasphemous,” or “salacious.”

Kazantzakis’ book portrayed Jesus Christ as more human than god-like. For some, that was “morally offensive.”

Blanche Collins was asked to report to the nine men of the Long Beach City Council and explain why she felt the book should not be removed from the city library. Collins had served as a librarian since 1925. She politely explained to the City Council that : “I make the point that when one begins pulling books from the shelves there is no stopping place. If we accede, we must then – tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow – remove other books as patrons demand, thus eventually removing the books that he himself most needs.”

The city council voted not to ban the book but to restrict it to adult readers.

Complaints about the type of publications in the Long Beach Library continued and in 1964, Collins was once again called before city council in a five-hour hearing to explain whether or not the library contained sufficient “conservative publications.” After testimony was taken, the city council voted unanimously to reject the charge that the library “bars conservative publications.”

Collins retired in 1968 and died in 1983. In 1977, the Friends of the Library established the “Blanche Collins Forum” to celebrate the opening of the new library and in honor of the former librarian standing up against censorship.

gerrie@beachcomber.news

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