The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield on Tuesday unveiled its redesigned mural, months after its previous mural, which was revealed on the museum’s inauguration, was criticized as reinforcing racial stereotypes.
The museum also installed a wall label, “Dr. Seuss in Historical Context,” which explains the evolution of the racial attitudes of the children’s book author, a Springfield native whose real name was Ted Geisel.
The museum had its grand opening in July. The first-floor indoor mural at that time featured characters from Seuss’ first book, “And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street,” which was published in 1937. One of the characters was a Chinese man with slit eyes, wearing a pointy hat and holding chopsticks.
Kids’ book authors Mo Willems, Mike Curato and Lisa Yee protested. “We find this caricature of ‘The Chinaman’ deeply hurtful, and have concerns about children’s exposure to it,” Willems wrote in a letter posted on Twitter and signed by all three. “While this image may have been considered amusing to some when it was published 80 years ago, it is obviously offensive in 2017.” Yee and Curato are Asian American.
Willems, Yee and Curato withdrew their participation in the museum’s Children’s Literature Festival, which had been scheduled for October. The museum later canceled the festival.
The brouhaha also spurred conversation about Seuss’ racial awareness. In the midst of the furor, a school librarian in Cambridge, Mass., refused to accept a gift of Seuss books from Melania Trump, saying that Seuss’ works were “steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures and harmful stereotypes.”
The new mural, installed on top of the old mural, includes characters from “Mulberry Street,” as well as more than a dozen other Seuss stories. A museum statement called the new painting “a celebration of Dr. Seuss’s wonderful journey starting on Mulberry Street and ending with ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go’.”
Beyond that statement, museum officials would not comment.
The new wall text describes Geisel’s childhood surrounded by immigrants: “Ted’s visual world was steeped in what some might now consider racially charged imagery.” It describes unnamed racial characters as exemplifying “images that were common in illustration as short-hand for ethnicity.” The wall text further explains that “The Sneetches,” written in 1961, was a parable about human dignity, which used birdlike creatures instead of people and was beloved by President Barack Obama.
“Does the fact that Dr. Seuss changed over time make it OK that his early imagery in children’s books is no longer comfortable for readers?” the text asks. “We hope all who visit will strive to see Dr. Seuss in historical context and celebrate the fact that a person can change and grow over time.”