During the first week of May 2020, journalist Nikole Hannah Jones was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for the collection of essays she edited for the New York Times Magazine called The 1619 Project.
She plainly stated that the collection “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”
During the last week of May 2020, George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police. In the wake of the killing, many people’s eyes were opened to the injustices faced by African Americans that were buried in history, such as the Tulsa Race Massacre and similarly violent and destructive attacks on the “Black Wall Streets” across America.
Many Americans expressed anger that they were never taught this history and the feeling partly fueled what many considered “a reckoning” by America with its past. People sought out more information about hidden facets of America’s history such as Hannah’s 1619 Project, which was subsequently adapted as a book.
Then came the backlash.
Reactionaries such as former President Donald Trump pushed back against this new understanding of American history and society, and by mid-2021, right-wing groups—mainly using legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw’s critical race theory as boogeyman—began demanding that books be banned.
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According to Pen America, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for the right to express oneself through writing and the freedom to access those views and ideas, it became a full-fledged social and political movement.
Powered by local, state and national groups, the ban affected 1,648 unique book titles by 1,261 different authors. Roughly 40 percent of the books deal with LGBTQ themes. Almost all the rest deal with characters who are people of color, slavery, racism and activism.
Not only do book bans threaten our First Amendment rights, they also seek to rewrite and whitewash history. They seek to hide the knowledge that moves society closer to racial, sexual, gender and religious equity.
One of the best ways to neutralize the impact is by reading these books and keeping the stories they tell alive. Below is a sampling of books by Black authors that have been banned.
The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story by Nikole Hannah Jones (One World)
The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Country by Amanda Gorman (Penguin Random House)
Poem with themes of social justice read at the Biden-Harris inauguration in 2021.
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson (Random House)
Analyzes the structural and systemic nature of White supremacy in America.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (Ballantine Books)
Memoir by legendary author discusses themes of race.
Hood Feminism: Notes from The Women A Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall (Viking)
Critiques the weaknesses of feminism particularly its lack of intersectionality with regard to Black women from under-resourced communities.
All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Memoir exploring themes of identity around race, gender and sexuality.
All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books)
Explores themes of racism and police brutality.
Push: A Novel by Sapphire (Vintage)
A Black teenager enduring incest and general societal neglect reflects on the role her race plays in her situation.
Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Children’s book where the main character deals with colorism.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson ( Nancy Paulsen Book)
In this memoir, the author discusses her family history dating back to Sally Hemings’ children sired by her enslaver Thomas Jefferson.
Beloved by Toni Morrison (Vintage)
A searing depiction of physical and mental traumas endured by America’s enslaved.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)
Discusses the damaging impacts of sexual molestation and colorism.
Being Brought from Africa to America by Phillis Wheatley (Ragged Hand)
Wheatley, America’s first published Black poet, uses tenets of Christianity to challenge the practice of American slavery.
Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story by Ruby Bridges (Scholastic Inc.)
Children’s book chronicling Bridges’ harrowing experience integrating an all-White elementary school in New Orleans.
How To Be Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi (One World)
Distills the meaning of racism as a systemic phenomenon and argues that affirmative (not passive) steps must be taken to rid the individual and society of it.