Friday, August 18, 2006

L. Frank Baum: Author of WIZARD OF OZ books and racist editorials on American Indians

Most people know The Wizard of Oz books by L. Frank Baum, but not many know that Baum wrote scathingly racist newspaper columns advocating the killing of American Indians. NPR (National Public Radio) ran a story yesterday that says Baum's descendents are issuing an apology for his columns. You can listen to the story here: 'Oz' Family Apologizes for Racist Editorials

For background on the editorials, go here: L. Frank Baum's Editorials on the Sioux Nation

[Update: Feb 14, 2011
The link above doesn't work anymore. I'm working on it. In the meantime, here's a paragraph from the his editorial that ran in the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, December 20, 1890:
The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are. History would forget these latter despicable beings, and speak, in later ages of the glory of these grand Kings of forest and plain that Cooper loved to heroism.]

I subscribe to "child_lit," which is a listserv (electronic mailing list) of people who write, illustrate, edit, publish, review, critique, read, and teach children's literature. I view it as an important group because key people in children's publishing are subscribers. Discussion topics are related to children's literature, and on occasion there is some focused (often heated) discussion of Native books. When I first joined this list in the mid 90s and posted the sorts of things I post here, I was often flamed by other subscribers who labeled me PC, hypercritical, etc. I don't get those nasty private emails anymore. Either people are just deleting and ignoring my posts, or, over time, they are thinking more carefully about what I have to say. And I should also note that in some ways, there is a creeping subtlety in terms of racist ideology. It is no longer explicit and blatant, but it is still there.

Anyway, child_lit is where I read about the Baum family apology (thanks to Kerry for the link). If you're involved with children's lit and want to see what child_lit is about, you can subscribe to the list. You'll start getting emails from the group. Yesterday there were 33 emails, so only subscribe if you're willing to receive that much email in a single day. If you don't like it, you can unsubscribe. I learn a lot by being on the list. To read about it and subscribe go to the child_lit webpage.

Returning to the Baum apology... If you've seen newspaper stories about it, post links in the comments section. In the NPR story, there was an interview with a woman (didn't catch her name) who is a descendant of a Wounded Knee survivor.

Update: Feb 14, 2011
Through comments to my post on Feb 12 (about Leo Politi playing Indian), I learned that the South Dakota Historical Society Press published two books for children, originally written by Baum as short stories. Here's one: Enchanted Buffalo. I'm ordering the book. 


Anonymous said...

Hello, Debbie

I enjoyed reading your blog entries and found myself intrigued by the entry regarding Frank Baum's editorials. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

Anonymous said...

The Wizard of Oz was the man behind the curtain; he was "a very bad man" in Dorothy's words. Yet the Wizard and the Wizard's creator have created something timeless, and good. Can an evil person create something of great beauty? Maybe the easiest way to look at Baum is that God used "a very bad man" to deliver "a very good story." Neither Dorothy, nor the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, etc. would recognize their creator. But they would still say thanks for being created. Should the film (and books) be thrown out the window with the baby/bath water?

Marie Green said...

He makes J. M. Barrie sound like a saint! ("Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are.") I mean I snicker with womanly pride knowing the OZ books were banned for showing WOMEN IN POWER, I know that his characters will still be loved beyond him.