Get Them Before Critical Race Theory Or Politics Sees Them Gone
America is busy again banning and burning books, largely those by Black and LGBTQ Authors. This isn’t a new thing, and many of the books considered literary staples were once banned or burned; some have made comebacks as certain segments of the population have turned their rancor against anything promoting their loosely-defined version of Critical Race Theory or promoting views not their own. Check out this list of twelve, and let me know which books you think are missing. Links to the books are available with each selection and on my website; www.williamfspivey.com
I once made a list of books that didn’t include “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and was thoroughly chastised. Malcolm’s life was far more than the quotes we associate with him most. He was led on a journey, and you can’t understand him without knowing where he came from and what he experienced. This book has previously been banned from Tennessee prisons, schools, and libraries across the country because of alleged “anti-white themes,” drugs, and violence.
Winning the Nobel Prize for Literature meant nothing to those who wanted this book gone. Since “The Bluest Eye” was published in 1987, it has appeared multiple times on lists of most banned books, including the most recent in 2021. Haters say they want it banned because it depicts incest, rape, and sexual explicitness. It couldn’t possibly be the portrayal of the double standard for Black girls growing up in America.
That’s what the states of New York and Virginia both said when they tried to ban Baldwin’s “Go Tell It On The Mountain”. It was the exploration of themes of homosexuality that were more likely the reason. James Baldwin didn’t evolve in a vacuum; you can’t appreciate his views on race, religion, and money, without understanding his life, revealed in this semi-autobiographical novel
When the Randolph County Board of Education in North Carolina banned “Invisible Man”, one of the members said the following;
The narrator writes in the first person, emphasizing his individual experiences and his feelings about the events portrayed in his life. This novel is not so innocent; instead, this book is filthier, too much for teenagers. You must respect all religions and point of views when it comes to the parents and what they feel is age appropriate for their young children to read, without their knowledge. This book is freely in your library for them to read.
Another claimed it had “no literary value.”
The book was partially about Ralph Ellison’s disillusionment with communism. Those who objected to the novel likely didn’t read far enough to grasp that point.
“Native Son” was purportedly banned for its sex, language, and violence. I suggest it was also banned in several jurisdictions because of the fear of a Black man, specifically Bigger Thomas. The thought that Bigger (that rhymes with something) was a product of America was apparently too much to bear.
Was it homosexuality, racism, profanity, abuse, violence, or the thought that a Black woman could be independent and stand up for herself? “The Color Purple” experienced a wave of bans across the nation between 1984–2013; then, Texas prisons banned it in 2017. Wake up, America!
“Roots” wasn’t so much banned as there were attempts to crush it from existence. You’d have had to have lived through the phenomenon of the Roots television miniseries to have an appreciation of home much the needle was moved. America saw its racial history in an easy-to-understand narrative covering decades in the context of one family’s history. That glimpse created a huge backlash and an attempt to negate the miniseries and the novel. There were charges of plagiarism and lies. It, too, was charged with an “anti-white” focus. I’m not sure the pro-white depiction of American slavery exists.
“Their Eyes Were Watching God” was challenged in 1997 after a Virginia student complained of its “obscenity and sexual content.” Worthy of exploration is the fact that many of Zora’s early critics were Black men who disliked her refusal to follow established gender guidelines. That was in the mid-1900s; complaints now are based on sexuality and overall Blackness. Maybe the thought of a self-governed Black town was overwhelming.
Attacks on “The Hate U Give” are less tied to Critical Race Theory than Defund The Police. Its alleged anti-police themes are tied to the portrayal of families victimized by the shooting of an unarmed boy, which far too often happens in real life. In 2017, it was banned in Katy, Texas, due to profanity.
Not exactly a novel, “The 1619 Project” was a long-form literary piece beginning with when enslaved people arrived in Virginia in 1619. The whitelash was incredible. Historians and politicians objected to the thought that enslavement was an essential element of the American Revolution, that enslavement was critical to America’s financial growth, and that the purpose was for any reason except to unfairly bash the Founders. The 1619 Project was the poster child for those opposing “Critical Race Theory,” which was barely being taught and not in grade schools and led the race to stop talking about race at all.
In 2021, the American Library Association‘s Office of Intellectual Freedom named “All Boys Aren't Blue” the third most banned and challenged book in the United States. “All Boys Aren’t Blue” is a series of essays about a young man navigating both Black and queer life. It has been banned in multiple states based on language, homosexuality, and alleged graphic sex (graphic meaning acts not part of their objector's regimen).
After a new teacher received approval to teach “Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, And You” to 8th-grade students in the Berlin (NJ) Borough School District, a group of parents sought its removal from the school. Parents harassed the teacher by email and phone, which led to the teacher resigning. The book has been condemned for reasons including “selective storytelling incidents,” and it “doesn’t encompass racism against all people.”
Read these twelve and let me know which ones you’d like added to the list.
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Books For Children
I write about Black History mostly for adults. While children don’t need to start out by hearing about the atrocities and the odious nature of enslavement. They do need to start learning about Black History and the achievements of Black people not usually found in test books.
Here are fifteen books I recommend for children that are both positive and inspirational. I’m sure others will add to the list. Links to these books are provided in the text and I will update links to include suggestions from readers.
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer by Carole Boston Weatherford Despite fierce prejudice and abuse, even being beaten to within an inch of her life, Fannie Lou Hamer was a champion of civil rights from the 1950s until her death in 1977. Integral to the Freedom Summer of 1964, Ms. Hamer gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention that, despite President Johnson’s interference, aired on national TV news and spurred the nation to support the Freedom Democrats. Based on the critically acclaimed 2016 Caldecott and Sibert Honor Book, Voice of Freedom celebrates Fannie Lou Hamer’s life and legacy with a message of hope, determination, and strength.
Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were good at math…really good.
They participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes, like providing the calculations for America’s first journeys into space. And they did so during a time when being black and a woman limited what they could do. But they worked hard. They persisted. And they used their genius minds to change the world.
Black is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy — -A child reflects on the meaning of being Black in this moving and powerful anthem about a people, a culture, a history, and a legacy that lives on.
Red is a rainbow color.
Green sits next to blue.
Yellow, orange, violet, indigo,
They are rainbow colors, too, but
My color is black . . .
And there’s no BLACK in rainbows.
From the wheels of a bicycle to the robe on Thurgood Marshall’s back, Black surrounds our lives. It is a color to simply describe some of our favorite things, but it also evokes a deeper sentiment about the incredible people who helped change the world and a community that continues to grow and thrive.
This picture book biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. brings his life and the profound nature of his message to young children through his own words.
Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of the most influential and gifted speakers of all time. Doreen Rappaport uses quotes from some of his most beloved speeches to tell the story of his life and his work in a simple, direct way. Bryan Collier’s stunning collage art combines remarkable watercolor paintings with vibrant patterns and textures. A timeline and a list of additional books and websites help make this a standout biography of Dr. King.
Dream Big, Little One by Vashti Harrison — Featuring 18 trailblazing black women in American history, Dream Big, Little One is the irresistible board book adaptation of Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History.
Among these women, you’ll find heroes, role models, and everyday women who did extraordinary things — bold women whose actions and beliefs contributed to making the world better for generations of girls and women to come. Whether they were putting pen to paper, soaring through the air or speaking up for the rights of others, the women profiled in these pages were all taking a stand against a world that didn’t always accept them.
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni — Fifty years after her refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus, Mrs. Rosa Parks is still one of the most important figures in the American civil rights movement. This tribute to Mrs. Parks is a celebration of her courageous action and the events that followed.
If You Were a Kid During the Civil Rights Movement by Gwendolyn Hooks — Follow along with two girls as they find themselves in the middle of a civil rights demonstration, and find out how the fight for equality changed the country forever.
Joyce Jenkins has recently moved to a new town with her family, and she will soon be attending a segregated school for the first time. Meanwhile, Connie Underwood is trying to figure out what her twin brothers are planning in secret. Readers (Ages 7–9) will follow along with the two girls as they find themselves in the middle of a civil rights demonstration, and find out how the fight for equality changed the country forever.
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford — In lyrical text, Carole Boston Weatherford describes Tubman’s spiritual journey as she hears the voice of God guiding her north to freedom on that very first trip to escape the brutal practice of forced servitude. Tubman would make nineteen subsequent trips back south, never being caught, but none as profound as this first one. Courageous, compassionate, and deeply religious, Harriet Tubman, with her bravery and relentless pursuit of freedom, is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.
The ABCs of Black History by Rio Cortez — Letter by letter, The ABCs of Black History celebrates a story that spans continents and centuries, triumph and heartbreak, creativity and joy.
It’s a story of big ideas — P is for Power, S is for Science and Soul. Of significant moments — G is for Great Migration. Of iconic figures — H is for Zora Neale Hurston, X is for Malcolm X. It’s an ABC book like no other, and a story of hope and love.
In addition to rhyming text, the book includes back matter with information on the events, places, and people mentioned in the poem, from Mae Jemison to W. E. B. Du Bois, Fannie Lou Hamer to Sam Cooke, and the Little Rock Nine to DJ Kool Herc.
The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander — Originally performed for ESPN’s The Undefeated, this poem is a love letter to black life in the United States. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world’s greatest heroes. The text is also peppered with references to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others, offering deeper insights into the accomplishments of the past, while bringing stark attention to the endurance and spirit of those surviving and thriving in the present. Robust back matter at the end provides valuable historical context and additional detail for those wishing to learn more.
Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden — When Bessie Coleman was a child, she wanted to be in school — not in the cotton fields of Texas, helping her family earn money. She wanted to be somebody significant in the world. So Bessie did everything she could to learn under the most challenging of circumstances. At the end of every day in the fields she checked the foreman’s numbers — made sure his math was correct. And this was just the beginning of a life of hard work and dedication that really paid off: Bessie became the first African-American to earn a pilot’s license. She was somebody.
The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, A Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson — Nine-year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks intended to go places and do things like anybody else.
So when she heard grown-ups talk about wiping out Birmingham’s segregation laws, she spoke up. As she listened to the preacher’s words, smooth as glass, she sat up tall. And when she heard the plan — picket those white stores! March to protest those unfair laws! Fill the jails! — she stepped right up and said, I’ll do it! She was going to j-a-a-il!
Audrey Faye Hendricks was confident and bold and brave as can be, and hers is the remarkable and inspiring story of one child’s role in the Civil Rights Movement.
Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Be Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz— Bolstered by the love and wisdom of his large, warm family, young Malcolm Little was a natural-born leader. But when confronted with intolerance and a series of tragedies, Malcolm’s optimism and faith were threatened. He had to learn how to be strong and how to hold on to his individuality. He had to learn self-reliance.
Together with acclaimed illustrator AG Ford, Ilyasah Shabazz gives us a unique glimpse into the childhood of her father, Malcolm X, with a lyrical story that carries a message that resonates still today — that we must all strive to live to our highest potential.
Child of the Civil Rights Movement by Paula Young Shelton — In this Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book of the Year, Paula Young Shelton, daughter of Civil Rights activist Andrew Young, brings a child’s unique perspective to an important chapter in America’s history. Paula grew up in the deep south, in a world where whites had and blacks did not. With an activist father and a community of leaders surrounding her, including Uncle Martin (Martin Luther King), Paula watched and listened to the struggles, eventually joining with her family — and thousands of others — in the historic march from Selma to Montgomery.
The Watson's Go to Birmingham — 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis — When the Watson family — ten-year-old Kenny, Momma, Dad, little sister Joetta, and brother Byron — sets out on a trip south to visit Grandma in Birmingham, Alabama, they don’t realize that they’re heading toward one of the darkest moments in America’s history. The Watsons’ journey reminds us that even in the hardest times, laughter and family can help us get through anything.
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9 Books You Should Know – If you could only have nine books by Black authors, I would select these. Having read them you’d have to find a way to enrich your knowledge of Black authors, but you couldn’t go wrong starting here:
1. Zora Neale Hurston: Their Eyes Were Watching God – Alice Walker said, “There is no book more important to me than this one.” A story of an independent Black woman, written when no such books existed. Zora’s rich characters and expression of Black culture make this a must read.
2. Ta-Nehisi Coates: Between the World and Me – This is a letter from Coates to his son, trying to explain racism and the historical role of white supremacy. It’s bound to make you think twice about things you thought you knew.
3. Langston Hughes: The Ways of White Folks – This is a collection of short stories about race relations in America. It’s humorous, realistic, and pessimistic which sounds like an accurate reflection of the times then and now.
4. W.E.B. Du Bois: The Souls of Black Folk – Though written in 1903, this collection of essays is also as current as they were a century ago. They describe the impact of racism on Black people. A reminder to those that thing racism a thing of the past.
5. Ralph Ellison: The Invisible Man – Two themes permeate this book. How the Black man is unseen in America, and Ellison’s disillusionment with Communism. It reminds that the place of the Black man in America has always been unclear.
6. Octavia Butler: Kindred – Time travel allows a young Black woman to transport from 1976 to meet her enslaved ancestors at various points in their lives. It crosses genres from science fiction to history to African American literature to just plain literature.
7. Tayari Jones: An American Marriage – The novel follows the marriage of a Black couple as the husband is wrongfully incarcerated. Several marriages are mentioned but Celestial and Roy are the couple to follow.
8. Glory Edim: Well-Read Black Girl – The author got her start forming one of the largest Black book clubs in the country. This anthology is inspirational and uplifting.
9. James Baldwin: No Name in the Street -What is history to most of us was personal to James Baldwin. He knew and befriended Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr and lived through their assassinations along with others. Baldwin became disheartened with America and eventually moved to France. Read this book and understand why.
10. I know I said nine books but as a bonus I’m adding ,
“Fieldnotes on Allyship: Achieving Equality Together.” Not just because I contributed a chapter but because the four sections; Racism, The Construct of Whiteness, Preparing Yourself To Be Ally, and Achieving Equality Together present a positivity not found in many of the other works. Without hope what do we have? Clay Rivers, President of the not-for-profit organization Our Human Family assembled the authors and shared one of his core beliefs.
“People change when they want to change, when they know change is possible, and when they know how to change. – Clay Rivers.
- William F. Spivey
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