Banned Books That Shaped America: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

The Library of Congress created an exhibit, “Books that Shaped America,” that explores books that “have had a profound effect on American life.” Many of the books in the exhibit have been banned/challenged.  Give yourself the gift of a beautiful story and read one and them imagine what your life would be like if you were never given that gift.

Fight censorship.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown, 1970

Subtitled “An Indian History of the American West,” this book tells the history of United States growth and expansion into the West from the point of view of Native Americans. This book was banned by a school district official in Wisconsin in 1974 because the book might be polemical and they wanted to avoid controversy at all costs. “If there’s a possibility that something might be controversial, then why not eliminate it,” the official stated.

BuryMyHeartBury My Heart at Wounded Knee by American writer Dee Brown is a history of Native Americans in the American West in the late nineteenth century that expresses a Native American perspective of the injustices and betrayals of the US government. Brown portrays the government’s dealings as continued efforts to destroy the culture, religion, and way of life of Native American peoples in describing the people’s displacement through forced relocations and years of warfare waged by the United States federal government. Helen Hunt Jackson’s A Century of Dishonor is often considered a 19th-century precursor to Dee Brown’s writing.

Prior to the publication of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown had become well versed in the history of the American Frontier. Having grown up in Arkansas, Brown developed a keen interest in the American West and, during his graduate education at George Washington University and his career as a librarian for both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he wrote numerous books on the subject. Brown’s works maintained a focus on the American West, but ranged anywhere from western fiction to histories to even children’s books. Many of Brown’s books revolved around similar Native American topics, including his Showdown at Little Bighorn (1964) and The Fetterman Massacre (1974).

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was first published in 1970 to generally strong reviews. Published at a time of increasing American Indian activism, the bestseller has never gone out of print and has been translated into 17 languages. The title is taken from the final phrase of a 20th-century poem titled “American Names” by Stephen Vincent Benet. The full quotation, “I shall not be here/I shall rise and pass/Bury my heart at Wounded Knee,” appears at the beginning of Brown’s book. Although Benet’s poem is not about the plight of Native Americans, Wounded Knee was the location of the last major confrontation between the U.S. Army and American Indians.

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