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How Do You Spell UNFAIR?

MacNolia Cox and the National Spelling Bee



Candlewick Press

(pub.4.11.2023) 40 pages

Author: Carole Boston Weatherford

Illustrator: Frank Morrison

Character: MacNolia Cox


"In 1936, eighth grader MacNolia Cox became the first African American to win the Akron, Ohio, spelling bee. And with that win, she was asked to compete at the prestigious National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC, where she and a girl from New Jersey were the first African Americans invited since its founding.

She left her home state a celebrity—right up there with Ohio’s own Joe Louis and Jesse Owens—with a military band and a crowd of thousands to see her off at the station.

But celebration turned to chill when the train crossed the state line into Maryland, where segregation was the law of the land. Prejudice and discrimination ruled—on the train, in the hotel, and, sadly, at the spelling bee itself."

Tantalizing taste:

" The judges, mostly from the segregated South,

couldn't seem to stump her.

Then they threw a curveball,

a word that MacNolia hadn't studied -


N-E-M-A-S-I-S, she answered.

MacNolia's teacher and the newspaper reporter

protested. They argued that the word nemesis

was not on the official list. Furthermore,

in MacNolia's dictionary, the word was a proper noun-

referring to a Greek goddess - and thus not acceptable.

The judges stood by their decision.

Can you spell unfair?


And something more: The Epilogue states: "MacNolia Cox was smart enough to excel at any career. However, she could not afford to attend college and wound up working as a maid for a doctor. She died in 1976 at age fifty-three ... In 2021, fourteen-year-old Zaila Avant-garde became the first African American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee ... That same year the US Senate passed a resolution honoring MacNolia Cox's life, legacy, and achievements."


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