This started as a comment on Chris's post about the editing of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. For more information, check out this CNN piece. I read yet another article on it, and had this thought: One of the main reasons the book should remain unedited is because the use of such language opens an invaluable dialogue about race, about prejudice and hatred, and I think that was one of Twain's main aims in the writing. History can not be whitewashed. (Nobody's talking me into painting THAT fence!) Though it is a work of fiction, I believe that the book really is a key part of Americana and the way people understand an era in US history.
Removing the word is tantamount to acting as though it were never used, and erasing the debasement that an entire race of people suffered. The N word was often used offhandedly and without thought, but that casual insult is perhaps more grievous than an intended strike against another human being, because Black people were not thought of as human beings but an inferior race! The travesty of the past cannot be undone, but to frame it differently, to edit the story of Huck Finn and in doing so edit the perception of human history at the time, to do that is to disrespect those people who lived through it. Though I don't believe the current generation holds responsibility for "the sins of the fathers", we certainly don't have the right to ease the tinge of guilt that remains by acting like it never happened.