"Huckleberry Finn" and the N-word debate

Should a publisher replace the N-word with "slave" in Mark Twain's classic novel?

Students at Woodbury High School in Minnesota read the original book this past year. But there are differences in how their teachers approach it. Nora Wise says the word out loud in class; Karen Morrill does not.

"People are scared to talk about race," Morrill told Pitts.

Morrill told Pitts she is not afraid to talk about race in class.

"But you will not say out loud the N-word?" Pitts asked.

"That's just such as minor part," she replied.

"Aren't you giving the word more power than it deserves by not saying it?" Pitts asked.

"I didn't give the word its power. It came into my classroom with that power," she replied.

"I might not always reach and nourish and nurture every single student. But I can certainly do my best not to harm them," she added.

When Nora Wise says the word, she feels its impact on students is worth it. "It makes sense in this novel to teach it with the controversy. It makes sense to bring up all of the hard emotions. They come with it. It's not just a classic book. It's not just the way the words are written, it's the ideas," she said.

Eleventh graders Melvin Efesoa, Joseph Jaurdio and Ryan Farrell confronted the controversial word and their feelings about it.

"I feel that that word is in there for a reason. Twain put the word in there to get our attention. And every time we read it, it does exactly that. It gets our attention," Farrell told Pitts.

"If you replace that with the word slave, of course people would be less bothered, but I think Twain wants people to be a little bit bothered," Jaurdio said.

"Melvin, you smiled," Pitts remarked, while interviewing the students.

"I smiled because like I just kind of think that constant use (of) the N-word, and to me, it feels unnecessary," Efesoa said.

"Why? What is it about this word?" Pitts asked.

"It reflects on African-American history back then. And like I said, it's a history that nobody wants to relive," Efesoa said.

"Do you think the discomfort starts and stops with the N-word? Or the discomfort extends to a conversation about race?" Pitts asked NewSouth Books' Randall Williams.

"In this specific instance, it is the word itself that is the problem. People are not comin' up sayin', 'Well, we can't teach this book because it's got discussion about slavery.' What they're sayin' is 'We can't teach the book because it's got all these repetitive instances of the offensive N-word in there, and therefore, we're not gonna use it,'" he replied.