Huckleberry Finn and Jim on a raft from the 1884 edition of "Huckleberry Finn."
MONTGOMERY, Ala., Jan. 6 (UPI) -- A new "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" edition's replacement of 219 "nigger" references with "slave" is causing a furor over Mark Twain's American novel.
Scores of negative e-mails and phone calls "assaulted" publisher NewSouth Books of Montgomery, Ala., since it discussed the book's plans with the weekly trade magazine Publishers Weekly, NewSouth co-founder and Publisher Suzanne La Rosa told The New York Times.
Scholars such as Randall Kennedy, a Harvard Law professor and author of a book on the history of the racial epithet in question, weighed in on the appropriateness of removing the word to make the book more palatable for the classroom.
"Trying to erase" the slur from U.S. culture "is profoundly, profoundly wrong," Kennedy told USA Today.
"The word is terrible, it's hurtful, but it's there for a reason," Jeff Nichols, executive director of the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Conn., told the newspaper.
It's there to convey the language and attitudes of Missouri in the 1840s at a time when segregationist Jim Crow laws were being passed in the South to deprive blacks of their civil rights, Nichols said. The book was first published in 1884.
But Twain scholar Alan Gribben of Auburn University at Montgomery, who approached NewSouth with the book idea in July, said the new edition, which also includes a cleaned-up "Adventures of Tom Sawyer," is not trying to erase anything.
It is trying to appeal to readers who cannot get past the slur to take in the rest of the book -- and thereby understand Twain's opposition to racism, Gribben said.
"I'm by no means sanitizing Mark Twain," he told the Times. "The sharp social critiques are in there. The humor is intact."
"All I'm doing is taking out a tripwire and leaving everything else intact," he told USA Today.
The new edition will also change "Injun Joe" to "Indian Joe" and "half-breed" to "half-blood."
An initial print run of 7,500 copies is set for release next month. A digital edition will go on sale as early as next week, NewSouth said.