In Florida, a school district canceled a civil rights history seminar for teachers. Not only do the rancid rightwing racists want to keep students from learning about slavery, civil rights, and racism—they don’t want teachers to learn history either.
“J. Michael Butler, a history professor at Flagler College in St. Augustine, was scheduled to give a presentation Saturday to Osceola County School District teachers called ‘The Long Civil Rights Movement,’ which postulates that the civil rights movement preceded and post-dated Martin Luther King Jr. by decades.”
From civil rights history to graphic novels, just about any teaching or even reading about Black history and experience can be targeted. Jerry Craft wrote two graphic novels based on his own growing-up experience as an African-American kid in a mostly-White school. New Kid won the 2020 Newbery Medal, the Coretta Scott King Author Award, and the Kirkus Prize—and got banned in Texas.
The Florida legislature is considering legislation to block any teaching about race that would cause discomfort to anyone. They mean, of course, discomfort to any White people. When it comes to racism, Black people do not need a history class to feel discomfort.
Racism, slavery, and the Holocaust are prime targets for the book burners, along with any reference to LGBTQ people. Big conservative money is behind the push to ban books and distort history teaching. The Guardian reports:
“Literature has already been removed from schools in Texas, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming. Librarians and teachers warn the trend is on the increase, as groups backed by wealthy Republican donors use centrally drawn up tactics and messaging to harangue school districts into removing certain texts.
“In October, the Texas state representative Matt Krause sent a list of 850 books to school districts, asking that they report how many copies they have of each title and how much had been spent on those books.”
The list includes books by Ta-Nehisi Coates and the often-targeted “Stamped from the Beginning” by Ibram X. Kendi.
Christopher Tackett, a former school board trustee in Texas, tweeted on January 27: “Today in Granbury ISD, at the High School library, they came with a hand cart and carried away multiple boxes of books tagged with “Krause’s List.” They can do this because the board voted 7-0 on Monday to change district policy allowing books to be removed prior to a review.” [Emphasis added.]
In Ridgeland, Mississippi, the mayor is withholding $110,000 from the county public library system. He says the quarterly funding won’t be released unless the public libraries purge all books about LBGTQ+ people.
Library director Tonja Johnson told the Mississippi Free Press:
“’He explained his opposition to what he called ‘homosexual materials’ in the library, that it went against his Christian beliefs, and that he would not release the money as the long as the materials were there,’ the library director said.
“The director then explained to the mayor that the library system, as a public entity, was not a religious institution. ‘I explained that we are a public library and we serve the entire community. I told him our collection reflects the diversity of our community,’ Johnson said.
“Apparently, the mayor was unmoved. ‘He told me that the library can serve whoever we wanted, but that he only serves the great Lord above,’ she finished.”
But book banning is not just in the South.
In Pennsylvania, the York Dispatch reported that Central York High School told teachers they could not teach a long list of banned books and movies.
“This is disgusting,” the teacher, who requested anonymity to protect his job, said. “Let’s just call it what it is — every author on that list is a Black voice.’ …
“Lauri Lebo, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said she wondered if the Central York school board members had read any of the materials on the banned list.
“‘They’re banning material from ‘Sesame Street,’ but not David Duke. They’re banning PBS, but not the KKK,’ Lebo said, in an email. ‘They’ve even banned the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators’ statement on racism.’”
The article in the York Dispatch includes a four-page list of banned materials.
We are not powerless in all of this. The Pennsylvania ban was overturned after student protests. Students also formed a banned book club to read and discuss the books banned by their schools. Parents, teachers, and community members successfully organized in Round Rock, Texas to keep Ibram X. Kendi’s widely-acclaimed “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” on the school reading list.
I’ve bought some of these banned books, including “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You,” and given them to young people I know. (I read the book first—it’s great! I highly recommend both this book and “Stamped from the Beginning,” which is the adult text.)
Want to fight back? Buy banned books, give them to libraries and schools, and fight back against every single attempt to restrict the teaching of actual history in our schools.
Mary Turck is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. She has published extensively as a journalist and has edited the Connection to the Americas and of the TC Daily Planet. Her website, maryturck.com, includes her literary and political blogs.