Jim Lewin has a dilemma.
And he thought I might find it interesting.
He was right -- I do.
You might, too.
The gist of it is this: Lewin is the owner of The York Emporium, a used-book/publication shop located at 343 W. Market St., in York City.
He's a book peddler. Old books. Used books. And publications of all types. If you enjoy books, but you've never been in his shop, you should go. It reeks of nostalgia.
Basically, if it's printed on paper, he tries to find a home for it.
Part and parcel of owning a book store, naturally, is being very protective of the printed word. Lewin is.
"My overall philosophy, simply stated," Lewin said, "runs along the lines of folks having the right to read whatever they want to read."
So he abhors censorship. "I bristle at the thought of censorship," he said. Straight to the point.
Having said that, though, Lewin is quick to point out he has "resisted suggestions to add a 'blue' section to The York Emporium." That's "blue," as in risque, bawdy, vulgar, coarse, dirty, sexual, perhaps even offensive. Go ahead, pick one.
Clearly, he doesn't want his book store to be viewed as a porn shop. He wants to be taken seriously.
So he tries to set a reasonable limit on the material he handles. Something he can live with.
Call it "self-censorship," I guess.
That, in itself, is not without a certain amount of conflict. But he deals with it the best he can.
"I stock all sorts of things," Lewin said. "Ideas are sometimes best when they are dangerous." Thomas Paine's "Common Sense," written in 1776, comes quickly to my mind as an example of that.
It is probably fair to say there has never been a time in this country when someone didn't object for one reason or another -- religion, sex, violence, politics, vulgarity -- to the publication of certain printed material.
"The Grapes of Wrath," for instance, was banned for a time. Same for "Tropic of Cancer," "Slaughterhouse Five," "Uncle Tom's Cabin," "The Catcher in the Rye," "The Call of the Wild," "Lolita," and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." Even "Gone With the Wind," and "The Jungle" were censored/banned.
The list of banned/censored books is very long.
That is the sort of thing Lewin would take exception to.
So put yourself in his shoes last Wednesday, when a couple walked into his shop carrying several boxes. "It seems they were helping friends clean out the house of their recently deceased parents. The boxes contained the usual sort of materials -- "Little Golden Books from the '60s, a few novels that were popular in the '50s and '60s, one or two Zane Grey novels that dated a little earlier," Lewin said.
And two fliers from the Ku Klux Klan that went back 40 or 50 years.
"One of the pieces was promoting a rally to have been held in Maryland in 1970," Lewin said. "The other was a recruiting brochure, along with a post office box in Bucks County."
So there you have it. Lewin is in the business of selling old printed material. What would you expect him to do with these KKK publications? What would you do with them if you were in his shoes?
"This isn't the first time I've had KKK materials," Lewin said. "For example, there was a trilogy of books, written by Thomas Dixon Jr., at the turn of the last century -- 'The Leopard's Spots,' 'The Clansman,' and 'The Traitor,' were subtitled 'A Romance of the White Man's Burden,' and they all dealt with ..."
Well, you know what they dealt with -- the Ku Klux Klan and its ideology.
"But," Lewin said, "these were historical curiosities and revealing of the sensibilities of the times. And those times, of course, were more than a century ago. There is a little safety in distance."
The problem, of course, is Lewin doesn't have the luxury of distance in time or space with the two KKK pieces that just came into his shop. I vividly recall covering, as a reporter early in my career, KKK rallies right here in York County. A half-dozen times, at least, in the '70s and '80s.
I recall covering a KKK cross-burning in Cly in the late- '70s.
Those activities were then and still are protected by the U.S. Constitution as freedom of speech and the right of people to peaceably assemble.
It wasn't pretty. Still isn't. But it was part of our history. And if we're smart, we'll have learned something important from it.
Still, Lewin has concerns because "they scream intolerance. Both extol hatred, or (more kindly) a profound fear of change." And it comes at a time when the "Trayvon Martin case and debates about immigration" are on the front pages of our newspapers almost every day.
At the same time, however, they are pieces of history -- York County history, even -- and "part of what makes us who were are. As such," Lewin suggested, "they deserve more respect than a shredder would provide."
So Lewin finds himself sitting uncomfortably between a rock and a hard place.
"They are a dilemma," he said.
Indeed, they are.
Put yourself in his shoes for a moment.
What would you do?
Me? Because I believe in preserving history -- good and bad -- I'd sell them to the highest bidder for 10 cents, $10 or $10,000.
I could hold on to them, but that only means the burden of what to do with them would fall to my children after I'm gone. Then my dilemma turns into their dilemma.
The bottom line, however, is I would not destroy the KKK publications if I owned them, anymore than I would destroy the pistol that was used in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln if I owned it.
But that's just me.
What say you?
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.