A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich (novel)

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Artist: Alice Childress

Year: 1973

Date of Action: September 1975

Region: North America

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion

Medium: Literature

Confronting Bodies:

Description of Artwork: A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich is a 1973 young adult novel by Alice Childress. Its 13-year-old protagonist, Benjie, is living in the urban ghetto of the 1970s and, encouraged by his friends, succumbs to the allure of heroin. She adapted the book as a screenplay for the 1978 feature film also entitled A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich, starring Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield. Her 1979 novel A Short Walk was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

The Incident: In 1975, the book was removed from high school library shelves by the board of education of the Island Trees Union Free School District in New York. This case became the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court case in 1982.

Results of Incident: With assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union, the students filed suit in January 1977 in a New York state court. The case was removed to federal court in part because of the constitutional issues involved. In 1979, a federal district court ruled in favor of the school district and dismissed the lawsuit. The district court reasoned that courts generally should not intervene in the operations of the schools and that although removing books may “reflect a misguided educational philosophy, it does not constitute a sharp and direct infringement of any First Amendment rights.”

The next year, a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that ruling, finding that the students should have been given the opportunity to prove that the school board’s justifications for removing the books were “simply pretexts for the suppression of free speech.”

After the school board failed to obtain full-panel review before the 2nd Circuit, it appealed to the Supreme Court. In 1982, the high court took the case and in a divided opinion said school officials are limited on when they can remove books from library shelves.

The case was sent back down to the lower courts and within a year the books were returned to the library shelves — after a 4-3 school board vote in January 1983.

(See: Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982))



Island Trees School District v. Pico, Wikipedia

Childress, Alice (1916-1994), Black Past