A great American author by the name of Samuel Clemens has been in the news a lot recently. Quite a while ago, under his more popularly known monicker of Mark Twain, Clemens wrote a tome about a couple of kids named Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Now, some book publisher in Alabama has decided to print copies of the American literary classic, but is leaving out a racial slur in order to be more politically correct in 2011.
Clearly the 'Bama boy has been out in the sun way too long. Or maybe he just needs to be checked for ticks.
People who want to pretend slavery never happened, or who won't allow the use of the racial slur apparently have no confidence in either the American common man or The United States Constitution. The former has shown greater strength and resiliency, greater resolve to move forward by doing what's right, than any other human society in recorded history. The latter guarantees freedom of speech for each and every American citizen; it's not reserved exclusively for the politically correct.
The Masters Golf Tournament hosted annually at Augusta National is no stranger to racial controversy. A decade or two ago it was revealed that the membership of the storied, historic club was all white. A great ruckus was raised about that, and eventually one well-to-do, upscale and politically well-connected African-American was invited to join Augusta National. He did, the storm passed, and the almost all-white Augusta National Golf Club returned to doing things the way they'd always been done.
Then a young golfer of African-American lineage by the name of Tiger Woods came along. Bursting on the professional golf scene and threatening to rewrite every record, Woods won the first of his four Masters titles in 1997. Everything was seemingly moving along just fine until shortly after the victory, when CNN's Jim Huber queried past Masters champions as to what they thought Woods win would mean for the future of the tourney.
One former champ, Fuzzy Zoeller, won his green jacket at Augusta in 1979. Zoeller, always a pleasure for other tour members to pair up with for a round, is quick with a joke; his one-liners keep the atmosphere from becoming too tense in crucial situations.
Well, each year, before the first hole is played, past Masters champions sit down to "the champions' dinner" in the historic clubhouse. The menu is chosen by the most recent winner of the green jacket.
Huber found Zoeller with drink in hand and obviously in relaxation mode, and Fuzzy quipped that Tiger's victory meant the menu for next year's dinner would likely be fried chicken, collard greens, or some other soul food.
Zoeller's comment was not spoken in malice aforethought. It was an innocent, comical answer to a tedious and nonsensical question at the end of four grueling days of golf against world-class calibre players. But Fuzzy's comment was trumpeted around the world, distorted into a negative, mean-spirited comment intent on revealing that professional golf was the last bastion of an all-white good old boy's club.
That's excluding NASCAR and country music, of course.
But, hey, country music recruited popular African-American singer Darius Rucker from rock's Hootie and the Blowfish to fill the void left after Charlie Pride's trailblazing, legendary work. And one black man, Wendell Scott, drove race cars from 1961-1973 and is, to date, the only African-American to win a NASCAR race.
But getting back to Tiger Woods and the pressure on him to decide the menu for the 1998 Masters Champions Dinner: Woods served up cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, french fries and milkshakes.
Fuzzy Zoeller was never the same after the episode. It was a perfect example of a great, good-natured, happy-go-lucky person being torpedoed by small-minded intelligentsia demanding that everyone be politically correct at all times and in all places.
As this year's Masters Tournament got underway I couldn't help but wonder what commentary might be offered if Mark Twain were alive and featured on final-round television coverage. He'd have to be counseled, undoubtedly, as to what terms he could and could not use.
One thing's pretty certain: Were he alive, Twain would not attend the Masters
He once wrote, for example, "Golf is a good walk - spoilt."
Another thing's absolutely certain: If that Alabama boy gets away with removing the racial slur from "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn," that'll be a great piece of American literature - spoilt.
And the noise you'll hear is the sound of politically correct intelligentsia trampling everyone else's freedom of speech.
Nat Harwell is a Covington resident. His column appears Sundays.