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‘B’ is for ‘banned:’ Mississippi’s historic battle with Sesame Street

Lily Tomlin plays “Ernestine” the telephone operator in a skit with Oscar the grouch when she...
Lily Tomlin plays “Ernestine” the telephone operator in a skit with Oscar the grouch when she appeared on the TV Show “Sesame Street” in New York on Sept. 19, 1988. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler)(Marty Lederhandler | ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Published: Nov. 10, 2021 at 9:00 AM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Who would have thought that a colorful street characterized by a comedic pair of roommates, helpful neighbors, and a larger than life bird (literally) would find itself at the center of a controversy.

You can ask anyone about some of the formative pieces of their childhood, and many will cite learning their numbers and alphabets with the aide of the characters from Sesame Street at the center.

Learning the alphabet to disco music and discovering that monsters can sometimes be the best of friends seems a bit unconventional, but many saw it as an innovative approach to learning.

At least that’s what Sesame Street’s creator Joan Ganz Cooney envisioned when the show debuted on November 10, 1969.

According to History.com, Cooney sought out to make programming that not only created an entertaining learning environment, but she also wanted to use television as a medium for “underprivileged 3 to 5-year-olds to prepare for kindergarten.”

Cooney’s sentiments were well received, and many welcomed Bert, Ernie, Betty Lou, Roosevelt and more into their homes. However, some were not as excited to welcome the new kids on the block.

On April 17, 1970, the Mississippi State Commission for Educational Television voted to ban Sesame Sesame Street.

This decision was not a result of Mr. Hooper asking Oscar for a baked-bean sundae or Carol Burnett’s discussion on Wanda the Witch. Instead, it was the direct result of a problem that had been looming around the state for decades.

One of the dissenters told The New York Times that the reason for this vote was because “some of the members of the commission were very much opposed to showing the series because it uses a highly integrated case of children.”

“Mississippi was not yet ready for it,” said the member.

The country was still feeling the after-effects of the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and many were trying to navigate what was supposedly a “post-racist” America. However, this demonstrated that Mississippians were struggling more than others.

In an editorial piece entitled “No to Sesame Street,” the Delta Democrat-Times stated, “there is no state which more desperately needs every educational tool it can find than Mississippi. There is no educational show on the market today better prepared than Sesame Street to teach preschool children what many cannot or do not learn in their homes….The needs are immense.”

The ban only lasted 22 days, and the board voted to put the show back on air after an outpour of negative feedback and reception.

Shortly after being reinstated, the Sesame Street cast appeared in the Capital City for a live performance.

While there has been no public apology, the show seems to welcome the Magnolia State with open arms, with contestant letter B being a proud resident of Biloxi, Mississippi.

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