Upon its release, Black Boy gained significant traction - both positive and negative - from readers and critics alike. In February 1945, Black Boy was a Book-of-the-Month-Club selection, bringing it immediate fame and acclaim. Black Boy was also featured in a list compiled by the Lending Section of the American Library Association labeled “50 Outstanding Books of 1945.” The list, which was compiled by numerous individuals and institutions, acclaims Black Boy as “the author's account of his boyhood [that] is a grim record of frustration, race tension, and suffering.” From 1996-2000, the Round Rock Independent School District board in Texas voted 4-2 against a proposal to remove Richard Wright’s Black Boy from reading lists at local schools, eventually deciding the content of the book was worthy and necessary in schools. In numerous cases of attempted censorship for Black Boy, Richard Wright’s widow, Ellen Wright, stood up and publicly defended the book, claiming that the censorship of Black Boy would be “tantamount to an American tragedy.” Black Boy was most recently challenged in Michigan in 2007 by the Howell High School for distributing explicit materials to minors, a ruling that was quickly overruled by a prosecutor who found that “the explicit passages illustrated a larger literary, artistic, or political message.”
Black Boy has come under fire by numerous states, institutions, and individuals alike. Most petitioners of the book criticize Wright for being anti-American, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, overly sexual and obscene, and most commonly, for portraying a grim picture of race relations in America. In 1972, Black Boy was banned in Michigan schools after parents found the content to be overly sexual and generally unsuitable for teens. In 1975, the book was challenged in both Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Tennessee, both places claiming the book was obscene and instigated racial tension. Black Boy was first challenged in New York in 1976 by the board of education of the Island Trees Free School District in New York. It was soon the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court case in 1982. Petitioners against the inclusion of Black Boy described the autobiography as "objectionable" and "improper fare for school students." The book was later challenged in Lincoln, Nebraska on accounts of its “corruptive, obscene nature.” In May 1997, the President of the North Florida Ministerial Alliance condemned the inclusion of Black Boy in Jacksonville’s public schools, claiming the content is not “right for high school students” due to profanity and racial references.