TV Legends Revealed | Did Mississippi Really Once Ban ‘Sesame Street’?

sesame

TV URBAN LEGEND: Mississippi once banned Sesame Street.

Mississippi has a unique place in the history of Sesame Street: Most importantly, Greenville is the birthplace of Sesame Street creator Jim Henson, who lived in nearby Stoneville during his childhood. In fact, another nearby city, Leland, claims to be the “birthplace of Kermit the Frog,” as Henson spent so much time there when he was young, a claim Henson never challenged. In fact, in 2002, Jim Henson Productions filmed Kermit: The Swamp Years in Mississippi, effectively confirming that the swamp Kermit grew up in was in that state. Kermit is an honorary board member of the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center (along with Morgan Freeman, Jimmy Buffett and a few others). So all of these great connections between Henson’s Muppets and Mississippi make it even more difficult to believe that for a time in the early 1970s, the state actually banned the airing of Sesame Street, and yet, that’s exactly what happened.

Following two years of research, in 1968 TV producer Joan Ganz Cooney and education expert Lloyd Morrisett, formed the Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) (now called Sesame Workshop). Their goal was to create an educational and entertaining children’s program, which resulted in Sesame Street, starring Jim Henson’s Muppet characters. The show debuted on public television in fall 1969 and became in immediate pop-culture phenomenon. By the end of 1970, Sesame Street was doing well in the ratings, the song “Rubber Duckie” was a surprise hit on the Billboard charts, and the show had garnered a Peabody Award to go with three Emmy Awards. President Nixon even wrote a congratulatory letter to Cooney!

However, not everyone was a fan of the show, specifically its multicultural setting. After serving 20 years as mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, Allen Cavett Thompson retired in 1969 and formed FOCUS, a group that he touted as a supporter of the freedom of choice in America. Using that “freedom of choice,” Thompson’s organization protested taxpayer dollars being spent to air Sesame Street. In response to the outcry a state commission was formed in April 1970 to address whether Sesame Street should be permitted to be broadcast on public television.

The five-person panel eventually ruled that the children’s show should be banned. One of the members of the commission, likely upset by the decision, leaked the results to The New York Times, in which it became a major news story. A commission member, speaking anonymously, stated that “Some of the members of the commission were very much opposed to showing the series because ‘it uses a highly integrated cast of children’” and furthermore, that the main objection was “mainly that we’re not ready for it yet.”

It’s important to note that there was no official explanation of why the commission ruled the way it did, and we can only rely on the comments of an anonymous member, one almost certainly against the decision. That said, however the panel arrived at its decision, it seems foolish. Cooney released a response to the ruling, stating that it was “a tragedy for both the white and black children of Mississippi.”

Twenty-two days after its original decision, the commission reversed itself and Sesame Street was approved in Mississippi, where it has remained ever since. However, for 22 days, the show was, indeed, banned by Mississippi, so the legend is …

STATUS: True

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

Be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies and Music!

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Comments

  • Dan Wheeler

    That’s some fucked up shit man !

  • Mondragon

    So it was the frighting and freakish nature of white kids hanging out with blacks and latinos that threw them?

    Not the fact they were hanging with monsters and talking animals …ok.

  • Chris Zuga

    A) Dan Wheeler it is an educational show, and your response shows a severe lack of it.

    B) Mississippi was a state full of frightened old guard racists afraid of the changing times
    C) I doubt most of the people who respond to this article will be old enough to remember anything about the time in which this took place.
    D) Growing up in Mississippi, some of my fondest childhood memories are of watching Sesame Street and Electric Company, both featuring multicultural casts.

  • Hypestyles

    Not surprised at all. It could happen again, if the “right” people get into the state legislature, in Mississippi and elsewhere.

  • Cuniraya

    Why is it that when ever a special interest group starts fighting for ‘freedom’ it almost always involves actively working to make sure that someone else is suffering as a result?

  • James Baker

    Chris Zuga- In defense of Dan Wheeler, I must point out that he is correct. That is, indeed, some fucked up shit.

    And, yes, I am old enough to remember being a kid in the south in 1970. It wasn’t always a place to be proud of.

  • penguintruth

    The South. The South, it never changes.

    And a lot of conservatives still object to the show because it promotes social values and tolerant view points to kids. So, yeah, COMMUNISM, EVERYBODY!

  • RussBurlingame

    “It’s important to note that there was no official explanation of why the commission ruled the way it did, and we can only rely on the comments of an anonymous member, one almost certainly against the decision.”

    Technically true, but anyone with a rudimentary understanding of Sesame Street and Mississippi could see this headline and guess exactly what the problem was, so…

  • Moonover

    “The South, it never changes.”

    Says someone who doesn’t live in the south. You have no idea what you are talking about.

    (If you do live in the south, you are either completely ignorant or you have been living in a cave with no human contact for the last 50 years).

  • Tommy Rankin

    “Some of the members of the commission were very much opposed to showing the series because ‘it uses a highly integrated cast of children’” ,the main objection was “mainly that we’re not ready for it yet.”

    So it was a case of “We don’t take kindly to your kind ’round these parts”
    Well that’s nice. Hopefully Sesame Street helped the next generation grow up to be smarter than that. That IS some fucked up shit, no matter what times were things like that happening is still fucked up.

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