Letter to Chairman Roy Hartz Protesting Soap Box Derby Censorship


Roy Hartz
Chairman, Board of Trustees
All-American Soap Box Derby

Dear Mr. Hartz,

The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and the organizations listed below are writing to protest efforts by the All-American Soap Box Derby to censor Melanie Payne's book, Champions, Cheaters and Childhood Dreams: Memories of the All-American Soap Box Derby, which is being published this month. In December, at least one official of the Derby attempted to pressure the publisher, the University of Akron Press, to make changes in Ms. Payne's book. This effort failed, but Derby officials have now reportedly blocked the sale of the book at the Derby championship on July 26.

According to Ms. Payne, she had a friendly relationship with the Derby during the three years she was writing the book. The Derby's general manager assisted her with research and agreed to let her use official Derby photographs. However, Derby officials were apparently angered when they discovered that the book would include references to cheating by a number of contestants over the years as well as other possibly unflattering information. Ms. Payne says that Robert Troyer, the Derby publicity director, told her in December that the Derby had decided to stop assisting her and would not give her permission to use the official photos.

Later in December, officials of the University of Akron Press learned that someone at the Derby was trying to exert pressure to change Ms. Payne's book. "The University of Akron Editorial Board is aware that one or more representatives of the Soap Box Derby have lobbied university officials to alter the text and title of Melanie Payne's manuscript," the board noted in a December 13 resolution. "The Editorial Board stands behind its decision to publish the manuscript….Any revision or changes in the manuscript text rest wholly with the director of the University of Akron Press…."

The Derby's efforts to interfere with the publication of Champions, Cheaters and Childhood Dreams are apparently continuing. Derby officials have now reportedly refused to allow Ms. Payne's publisher to rent a booth on Derby Downs, the site of the national championship, where it had hoped to sell the book. In addition, we have been informed that a Derby official attempted to prevent the sale of the book at an adjacent site as well.

The All-American Soap Box Derby has the right to criticize Ms. Payne and her book. It can legally deny her the use of its pictures. It even has the legal right to prevent her from selling her book at Derby Downs. However, we believe that these actions are unwise and give the appearance that the Derby is attempting to whitewash history. Even more objectionable are attempts to force changes in the book and to prevent Ms. Payne from selling it outside Derby Downs.

One of the major purposes of the All-American Soap Box Derby is to demonstrate to young people the importance of "the spirit of competition." We urge the Derby to set an example for its contestants by demonstrating a tolerance for the competition of ideas. A good start would be to allow Melanie Payne to sell her book on Derby property. In any case, the All-American Soap Box Derby should cease all efforts to interfere with the sale of Champions, Cheaters and Childhood Dreams.

Sincerely yours,

Christopher Finan, President
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression

Also signed by:

Joan Bertin, executive director
National Coalition Against Censorship

Gordon M. Conable, president
Freedom to Read Foundation

Mary D. Dorman, president
Feminists for Free Expression

Judith F. Krug, executive director
Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Assn.

Larry Siems, director
Freedom to Write/International Programs, PEN American Center

Ethel Silver Sorokin, president
Center for First Amendment Rights

cc: Anthony DeLuca, executive director, All-American Soap Box Derby