Banned African American Books in Red States and Why

Books depicting the African American experience from Alex Haley, Alice Walker, Ruby Bridges, and more black authors are banned in the U.S. Schools, Libraries, and prisons from Tennessee to Arizona (Mostly red states).

They’re banned because of the violence, language, and adverse effects they might have on young readers. Another reason why is because of the Critical Race Theory (CRT). It’s a Cross-disciplinary examination by social and civil rights activists of how social conceptions of race and ethnicity shape laws, social and political movements, and media.

Whether books or teaching, the number of banned subjects related towards CRT continues to grow across the US. Several red states believe it teaches that America was founded on racism and inequality and that white supremacy is embedded in this country.  

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a nonfiction book based on the actual events of the Muslim Minister and civil rights activist. The book was written by Malcolm and Alex Haley.

The novel touches on black pride, The African American experience from the 1920s through the 1960s, racism, religion, coming of age, black separatism, and Jim Crow. Along with Malcolm X joining the Nation of Islam (NOI), a black nationalist organization that teaches Islamic tradition and black separatism.

The NOI was started in 1930 by founder Minister Wallace Fard Muhammad, then after he died in 1937 and led by Minister Elijah Muhammad from 1937 till his death in 1975. Muhammad was Malcolm X’s mentor. The novel mentions when Malcolm X left the NOI and went to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and the events when he returned.

When Malcolm left the NOI due to disagreements about where the organization was heading with Muhammad, Malcolm went to Mecca for his true conversion into a Muslim.  Malcolm X changed because of what he saw, and he saw Muslims of all different colors and races without discrimination against each other. 

The book is  regarded as one of the most influential in the U.S. as of  2012. The Library of Congress named it “One of The Books That Helped Shaped America” in 2021. The book was published on Oct. 29, 1965, just eight months after Malcolm X was assassinated at 39. 27 years later, the book was produced into a film starring Denzel Washington as Malcolm X and was directed by Spike Lee.

Dr. Jamal Cooks, Vice President of Academic Service at Chabot College, said this about the book “Malcolm was changing before going to Mecca. He began to not only see the world in black and white, but he also began to see it in terms of those that were for the progress of humanity and those that were not. The book spoke on brotherhood, embracing humans, and somehow it got lost in translation.”

The novel is banned in six red states, including Arizona, Texas, and Tennessee. According to an article on the Vice website, Tennessee Prison Rejects Book Donations Because Malcom X is Not Allowed, states that  Malcom X’s bio book is banned in the prisons of Tennessee because of CRT law that’s been placed in that state and how it may incite a riot. The book is claimed to be inconsistent with rehabilitative goals.

An autobiography not banned in those same red states is German Nazi Party Leader, Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf. Translated in English is titled, My struggle, is claimed to not have anything to do with the CRT laws.

When Department of Criminal Justice Chief of Staff Jason Clark asked why he allowed the Hitler book in the Texas Prisons, he replied, “Mein Kampif is approved because it doesn’t violate our rules, it doesn’t stir up readers’ minds.”

In an excerpt from Mien Kampif on page 134,  “The Jews are the master of lies…. Jews are people of robbers…. they are beneath us like rats.” This extremist racist German organization imprisoned, tortured, and killed over six million Jews during the holocaust.        

Malcom was all about helping the African American race. He was never about violence. He was a separatist, but he changed when he returned from Mecca. He wanted to ally with other civil rights leaders he once called “Uncle Tom,” a derogatory word that meant a sell-out to their race. He wanted help from Dr. Martin Luther King, Adam Clayton Powell, and white people who wanted to help.

The Color Purple

The Color Purple is a fictional book by Alice Walker. The book guides the trauma and victory of Celie Harris Johnson, an African American woman raised in Georgia during the early 20th century. The book takes place during Celie’s teen years and ends into her adulthood. In the novel, Celie is bullied, discouraged, and has low self-esteem due to her husband and stepfather, yet she overcomes it and stands up for herself.

The novel was published in 1982, and the following year won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and The National Book Award for Fiction. In 1985 the book was produced into a movie starring Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Danny Glover. With Steven Spielberg as the director.

The book is banned in six red states like Florida, Mississippi, and Texas due to the book subjects on racism, lesbianism, rape, teenage pregnancy, and sexism. An article titled, Texas Prison Bans the Color Purple, on the Guardian website states, “The book is banned because the author leads the reader to believe her father rapes the main character.”

North Carolina Brunswick County Commissioner Pat Sykes wrote in her request in 2021 to remove the novel from the state. She said, “Trash in, Trash out. The immorality, the filth, you need to be 21 to drink, but they provided porn. Reading this as part of their curriculum in High School is Wrong.” The school board voted 3-2 to keep the book in school.

In an article on the Oprah Daily website, Oprah Says She Wanted to Be in The Color Purple More Than Ever, Oprah stated, “When I read the book for the first time, I loved it. It embraced womanhood; the book is cultured. So, when I found out about the audition for the movie, I went out and brought copies, handed them to people, and told them I was going to be in the movie. The book is so meaningful and deep.”

A musical movie of the book is set to be released in theaters on Dec. 25, 2023. Fantasia Barrino will be portraying the character of Celie. 

Ruby Bridges Goes to School

Ruby Bridges Goes to School was written by Ruby Bridges herself and published in 2009. It’s an autobiography about Bridge’s experience of being the first African American to be integrated into an all-white school in New Orleans, LA 1960.

The book is banned in Texas, Tennessee, and Florida due to the CRT law. Moms Against Liberty (MAL) is a conservative nonprofit organization that advocates for what it sees as parental rights in schools; they advocated for the ban of the book.

In an article on titled Moms Against Liberty Against Ruby Bridges, stated MAL’s comment, “The book is too uncomfortable for young white children… There are no black heroes in the book. Such as Justice of the Peace Clarence Thomas, Actor Morgan Freeman, and Secretary Ben Carson.”

The book focuses on Bridges and what she had to overcome as a six-year-old in 1960. This is 31 years before Thomas was Justice of the Peace in the U.S. Supreme Court, 57 years before Carson served as the 17 United States Secretary of Housing, and 11 years before Morgan Freeman made his acting debut.

Dr. Cook chimes in on what the MAL chapters in Arizona, Texas, and Tennessee comment about that novel, “Life is uncomfortable, and life is in no one’s favor…. The book explains to the readers how taking a stand for what you believe in is very important. You can stand up for whatever you believe in at any age, and to me, that’s a hero.”

The novel represents never forgetting the past or those who were there to help a better future. In the first chapter of the book she stated, “A Long time, black children and white children could not go to the same school. I Helped change that and along my journey I made friends too. Some white children did not judge me because of my color. They judge me because of my character.”

Others’ Opinions

Books from the African American Experience inform young, old, black, and white readers of the obstacles they faced in U.S. history. Those obstacles deal with racism, segregation, unjustified laws, slavery, and more that are still brutal to the black race today.

Umoja member and Chabot student Christian Green expressed, “It’s a toleration of white guilt and ignorance. The CRT theory is for black people specifically. Allowing this to happen in allowing any other forms of the practical racial, sexist, homophobic system to continue because someone doesn’t want race and anything else to be talked about in general.”

Libraries are meant to serve the public and all prospective points of view. Chabot head librarian Pedro Reynoso expressed, “Anytime you censor any author, specifically minorities, it’s a way of erasing people’s contribution to this country….as a librarian, I always support and defend freedom of speech and collecting books from prospective that present the full spectrum of the community.”

There is a letter obtained by the Texas Tribune from the Texas House of Representatives stating, “These books might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish,” and then continues, “They’re too young for children to be part of the school curriculum dealing with race and Black Lives Matters Moments.”

Books are supposed to, at times, leave readers questioned, informative, and create their own opinions. As an educator, Dr. Cook mentioned, “My point as an educator is that part of what we do is to be able to expose young people to a variety of topics at an appropriate time. Exposing them to different topics lets them walk away from their perspectives.”

Umoja member and Chabot student Makaylih Chan Welch voiced, “It’s dumb. Why erase or ban books of events that happened? Racism, slavery, and Jim Crow happened over 100 years ago. Years you can’t erase the black experience that happened 100 years or less years ago. There are people alive today that were involved in civil rights. Doing this removes their voice, and young people from different races need to hear or read that.”

More books about the African American experiences from black authors include A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines, Beloved by Toni Morrison, I Know Why a Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, and more, continue to be banned from red states due to the CRT Laws in those states.

Books, fiction or nonfiction about the black experience, uplift the race, reminding readers of the realities that African Americans faced through their own words. They not only highlight the negative but showcase the positive as well. The continuation of the book ban will further erase black stories for the future generations.

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