The banning of books, whether five hundred years ago or today, is grounded in the quest
for power and control and is intricately linked to attempts to restrict free speech, control over
one’s body, political and civil rights, public protests, and more.
Today, the most potent force in the campaign to silence or distort all discussion of slavery
begins in the first half of the 19 th century with the burning and banning of books and other
publications expressing anti-slavery sentiments. Literally “incendiary” were books such as
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, an anti-slavery novel, which was publicly burned
and banned by slave holders.
The following incident helps illustrate what was standard operating procedure for the
mob violence scenario:
On the basis of a fabricated accusation of sexual assault by a Black man against a white female,
a white mob in September 1906 charged its way through the thriving downtown Black business
district of Atlanta. Store windows were smashed, defenseless Black women were accosted,
pulled from streetcars, and murdered. One prosperous Black business after another was
destroyed. In one barbershop, the vicious white mob killed all of the barbers. W.E.B. DuBois,
noted scholar, NAACP founder, and professor at Atlanta University at the time, bought a gun to
defend himself and his family. At least twenty five black people and two whites died
(one of the two whites from a heart attack) in the horrendous white vigilante attack. Yet
according to the Florida curriculum, DuBois and the murdered Black people would be guilty of
violence. Who knows, an all-white jury may have found the white mob not guilty, if by some
miracle they were tried. The same violent label might also be applied to the innocent Black
people across the United States in places like East St. Louis Illinois, Chester Pennsylvania, and
dozens of cities throughout the country where violent white mobs could so freely attack Black
people for simply living while Black.
Somehow the survival strategies that the enslaved Africans developed and adapted to the
conditions they encountered; the ways they created to sustain themselves; their courage to resist
the harshness of a system designed to dehumanize them; the cultural knowledge they brought
with them from their African homeland are noticeably absent from histories of a nation bent on
rewriting history, glossing over ugly truths about slavery, and pushing an education policy that
is rooted in bigotry and white supremacy.
It is time for the Department of Education and the Department of Justice to act, to take a
stand, to use their legal power to stamp out all efforts to create policies and narratives built on
lies, Christian Nationalism, white supremacy, racial bias, gender stereotyping, and anti