Frankie’s heart was still racing a few minutes later when she and Susan were back in the bedroom they shared, getting dressed. They had never so willfully disobeyed their parents before, and the thought of it shook Frankie’s fingers as she attempted to button the collar of her drop waist, gingham dress.
“Are you nervous at all, Susan?” she asked after a moment, sitting down on the edge of their bed to pull up her white knee socks.
Susan turned from the mirror over the vanity to look at her, but continued tucking her sailor-style top into her skirt. She’d begun dressing more like a grown woman the year before, trading in the knee-length dresses and Mary Jane’s Frankie still wore for the blouses, long skirts, and high-heeled boots of a lady. “Of course not,” she replied. “We’ve made this trip a hundred times before. It won’t be any different just because Mamma and Papa aren’t there.”
She was right. Their Uncle Frank, whom Frankie had been named after, lived in Kansas City, Missouri, and they had taken the train to visit him and even gone to the movie palace with him a number of times. But they’d always been with their parents before, and the films they’d seen had never been forbidden or banned in Kansas.
“I know,” Frankie said, still sitting on the bed as she divided her hair in the back with her fingers and started to braid the right side. “But once we’re there…I mean, Kansas City is so much bigger than Lawrence.”
Susan glanced back at Frankie again. Then, after a sigh, she walked over and sat down beside her.
“You know you want to see this movie as much as I do,” she said, taking the unbound side of Frankie’s hair and starting to braid it. “It isn’t fair the whole country gets to see what everyone says is the greatest, most exciting film ever made except for the people of Kansas. Who are the governor and the Board of Censorship to tell us what we can and cannot watch? Who are Mamma and Papa to agree with them and keep us from experiencing what some of the greatest minds in the country are calling an absolute masterpiece?”
Frankie nodded, allowing Susan to finish plaiting her left side and then tie both braids with two ribbons. Once she was finished, Frankie crawled up behind her and started arranging her hair in one long braid down the back.
It was true; the whole country was calling The Birth of a Nation a masterpiece. Even those who hated it and thought it should be banned agreed it was revolutionary. Movies were short and silly – ten minutes of a cowboy rescuing a maiden tied to the train tracks or an inept police officer stumbling after an even more inept bandit – but this movie was over two hours long and told the entire story of the Civil War and Reconstruction. It was said to have epic battle scenes and magical special effects. How was it fair for a bunch of grownups to watch the film and then decide no one else was allowed to?
“You’re right,” she said, and she saw Susan smile in the vanity mirror before them.
“Of course I am.”
“But, it will be…safe, won’t it?” Frankie asked as she finished the braid. The Kansas Board of Censorship had given many reasons for banning The Birth of a Nation, but the main one was they feared it would incite riots.
Because in Boston, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, it had.
“The movie has been showing in KC for months now,” Susan said. “If a riot were going to happen, it would have already.” She turned around, took Frankie’s hands, and looked into her eyes. “But if something like that did happen, I would protect you.”
Frankie breathed a laugh and her pulse relaxed. “The real protection we’ll need will be from Mamma if she finds out.”
Susan laughed too but, when she spoke, her tone betrayed the grave truth of Frankie’s words. “Then let’s make sure she doesn’t.”