The Kern County, California, board of supervisors' action to ban John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath from the Kern County Free Library shortly after the novel's publication in 1939 was controversial and unprecedented in the county's history, but so was the influx of migrant farmworkers into the county. At the height of the Great Depression, the county's population grew over 63 percent in five years. The board's action was influenced by powerful economic, social, and political factors. Caught between the ideological struggles of powers like the Associated Farmers and the unions and the seemingly contradictory policies of the American Library Association, librarian Gretchen Knief, with the advice of California State Librarian Mabel Gillis, complied with the board's order. While Knief protested in personal correspondence to the supervisors, publicly she remained silent, yet she defied the spirit of the order by making copies of the books available to other libraries in California—albeit briefly. Although the ban was lifted when the political climate in the county changed, it reflects the ambivalent attitudes about the Okies, illustrates the power of governing boards to censor public libraries, and underscores the precarious nature of intellectual freedom in libraries.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 351-377
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.