BLAST FROM THE PAST: Binghamton Kids Willingly Set Fire to Their Beloved Books
I love literature. I love to hold books in my hands, smell the ink on the pages of books, run my fingers along the lines of the words. My love of books has become something of an obsession but then again, it has been since I was a little girl, and the thought of not just banning or ceasing publication of certain books, but instead burning them leaves a heavy ache in my heart.
It seems like every time we turn on the news, we're greeting with headlines that scream at us that this has been banned and that has been banned. That this should be destroyed and that should be destroyed.
History Repeats Itself Time and Time Again
For my entire life, my parents and school teachers have told me that history repeats itself. I am in no way downplaying the events of the current day but stumbled on something very interesting related to Binghamton and our history right here of censorship which offers further proof that there has always been a tug of war between the protection of impressionable minds and fundamental liberties, including freedom of speech.
Dr. Fredric Wertham Declares War
Dr. Fredric Wertham was an internationally known psychiatrist who worked at a hospital in Harlem where he treated juvenile delinquents. Through his time spent with the troubled youngsters, Dr. Wertham discovered a common thread among many of his patients - they read comic books. And just like that, Dr. Wertham came to the conclusion that comic books must be what sparked criminal ideas inside impressionable young minds and he made it his mission to rip the comics from as many young hands as possible.
Comic Books Become Public Enemy Number One
In 1948, Dr. Wetham went public with his crusade to educate adults on the horrors hidden in the pages of the comic books that their children were reading, and just like that, comic books became public enemy number one.
On October 26, 1948, encouraged by adults who were spurred by Dr. Wetham's public outcry for the destroying of comic books, kids in the town of Spencer, West Virginia began collecting comics and for the next month, they would gather in the yard of the school to burn the offending material.
Binghamton Sparks a Flame, Literally
Inspired by the kids in West Virginia, students of St. Patrick’s parochial school in Binghamton decided they too needed to rid our community of filthy comic books. Author Gerald Jones described what went down in Binghamton in his book “Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book."
An impromptu crusade in Binghamton, New York, sent volunteers door-to-door to ask, "Are there any comic books in this house?” When the households could be persuaded that doctors, police, and ministers were right about the dangers of comics, the volunteers gathered the offending publications and carried them to the local school yard, where they were piled high, doused with gasoline, and set afire. Time ran pictures of the comics blazing, children watching with some ambivalence from the background.
The news was present for the burning of the comic books in Binghamton. Major outlets such as the New York Times and even Time magazine covered the story and our little town made the news far and wide sparking other schools in faraway places, even as far as Canada to conduct their own comic book burnings.
And here we are, nearly 73 years later and the subject of destroying written material has once again taken center stage.