North Carolina is one of several states experiencing a surge in book bans.

Two school districts have banned six books in the state that discussed topics of racism and anti-Semitism. 

Perhaps the most surprising in the 21st century: the legendary “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee, which tells a story about a lawyer who defends a Black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. After its original publication, it was made into an Academy Award winning film and has been standard reading for decades.

 The remainder of the list reads as follows: 

  • “Dear Martin,” Nic Stone’s book about an Ivy League Black student who becomes a victim of racial profiling.
  • “Darkness Before Dawn,” the last book from author Sharon M. Draper’s trilogy, which follows a Black teen who escapes an abusive relationship. 
  • “Forged By Fire,” the second book in Draper’s trilogy that chronicles a Black teen who struggles to cope with the loss of his aunt. 
  • “All American Boys,” by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, about two teenage boys who handle racism and police brutality.
  • “Night,” Elie Wiesel’s memoir about his experiences in a holocaust camp with his father.

Students in a Pennsylvania school district were not allowed to read a biography of President Barack Obama. In some Tennessee classrooms, a nonfiction comic book about the atrocities of the Holocaust is banned. And one school district in Wisconsin banned from libraries a picture book about a gay rights activist who was assassinated.

In the last nine months, hundreds of books across dozens of states are being banned at an alarming rate. A majority of the bans feature books written by authors who are people of color, LGBTQ, Black and Indigenous, and feature characters from marginalized groups.

State Republican lawmakers are joining the movement, spurred by ultra-conservative groups, to ban books from public schools and libraries.

This year in Arizona, state Republicans put forth a measure that would ban schools from teaching or directing students to study any material that is “sexually explicit.” In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed a bill to allow parents greater opportunity to review, and potentially object to, school library books that they find “inappropriate.”

And in Idaho, state House Republicans passed a bill that would allow librarians to be prosecuted for allowing minors to check out material deemed harmful.

Some of the states with the most aggressive book bans include Texas (713 bans), Pennsylvania (456) and Florida (204).

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said book bans within the last 10 years have dealt “with the lives of LGBTQIA persons, either reflecting their experiences, or talking about issues of concern to the LGBTQIA community.” She said those bans have ranged from picture books depicting same-sex couples to young adult books talking about gender identities.

Caldwell-Stone said, “the one thing that has interrupted this” trend of banning books centered on LGBTQ+ themes was the 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin.

“There was an increased number of challenges to books dealing with race and racism that accelerated when we started seeing complaints from organized groups about critical race theory,” she said. “And so when I say critical race theory, I’m not using it in the sense that it actually should be used, which is to describe a graduate level academic analysis of law and political systems, but this use of it to describe books and materials that offer alternative perspectives on American history that reflect the lives of Black persons and their experience of slavery, their experiences with police violence, and so we’ve seen a rising number of challenges to those books.”

Some of those groups that have challenged school boards include Moms for Liberty, an organization that has strong GOP ties and has local chapters that “target local school board meetings, school board members, administrators, and teachers” to push right-wing policies, as reported by Media Matters. Moms for Liberty has more than 100 local chapters across 35 states.

“We’re seeing nationally organized groups create local chapters, and use social media to amplify their demands,” Caldwell-Stone said. “They will tell you that they’re asserting parental rights to direct their children’s education, but the impact of their activities is to deny other parents the right to make decisions about their own children’s education, and particularly for older adolescents denying the First Amendment rights and agency for elder adolescents to read and access the materials they find important for their lives.”

Congressional Democrats have also raised concerns about the increase in book bans across the country. At a recent hearing, Maryland Democrat Rep. Jamie Raskin, cited a report by PEN America — an organization that advocates for the protection of free speech — that found from July 2021 to the end of March this year, more than 1,500 books were banned in 86 school districts in 26 states.

“Teacher Dana sharing ‘The Story of Ruby Bridges’ with her students…” by timlauer is marked with CC BY-NC 2.0. Creative Commons.

Ruby Bridges, a civil rights icon who was the first Black child to desegregate an all-white Louisiana school, was a key witness at the hearing. Children’s books about her story – “Brand New School, Brave New Ruby,” and “The Story of Ruby Bridges” – have been banned from classrooms in Pennsylvania.

“The truth is that rarely do children of color or immigrants see themselves in these textbooks we are forced to use,” Bridges told lawmakers. “I write because I want them to understand the contributions their ancestors have made to our great country, whether that contribution was made as slaves or volunteers.”

Banning books has a long history. Since the 1980s, the American Libraries Association has celebrated those books that are taken off the shelves for its yearly “Banned Books Week.”

Books have been banned for racist depictions or language, such as “Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain and “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck because of its racial slurs. And in 2021, Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced it would no longer reprint six Dr. Seuss books, including “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” and “If I Ran the Zoo.”

“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” Dr. Seuss Enterprises said in a statement.

Banning books in the classroom is an issue the Supreme Court took up in 1982 in Island Trees School District v. Pico. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled in the student’s favor, affirming that the First Amendment limits the power of junior high and high school administrative officials to remove books from school libraries based on the books’ content.

But in that court decision, because “given the sensibilities of young people” schools were given discretion to remove books that were deemed “pervasively vulgar,” or “educationally unsuitable,” Caldwell-Stone said.

“Because the court really didn’t define these terms, they become a kind of magic word,” she said. “If we say those magic words that will make it legal for us to remove this book when, in fact, the actual motivation behind removing the book is because the book is about two gay teens finding each other and falling in love.”

This story appears courtesy of our media partner NC Policy Watch.

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