What to Know About Book Bans in 2024
By Jazlyn White
photo by: Tima Miroshnichenko
Between Black History Month and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the beginning of the year should be a time that uplifts Black students. Classrooms should be a place used to actively and intentionally highlight the achievements of African-Americans, uncovering their contributions to American culture in spite of their oppression. Instead, parents, educators, and students in 2024 are facing another year of book banning and the censoring of African-American literature. Only 12 states mandate that schools teach Black history—with additional legislation is certain places to restrict the instruction of certain racial topics. There has consistently been a lack of representation in all forms of media for Black youth, and the ongoing actions of conservative legislatures will likely be detrimental to their impressionable minds.
Here are some things to keep in mind as these book challenges ensue: the American Library Association (ALA) is the main source reporting on and releasing data about book bans in libraries across the country, dating back to 2022. A lot of districts have also targeted LGBTQIA+ books in public and school libraries, and the ALA specifically cited the Urbandale Community School District in Iowa for flagging hundreds of potentially inappropriate books. These books included novels by Toni Morrison, Richard Wright and others. The ALA’s findings are especially eye opening because they explicitly state that the attempts to censor books overwhelmingly challenged “books written by or about a person of color” (American Library Association). No matter the rhetoric used in support of the censorship, these texts are appropriate for the students that read them. Instead, banning these books further marginalizes Black authors and their experiences.
Authors like Morrison or Wright write for mature audiences anyways, so the students interested in accessing books like Beloved or Native Son—not even encountering them in their coursework—are older adolescents. Nearing adulthood or higher education, these students deserve the freedom to engage with all kinds of books. Similarly, advanced high schoolers in Florida were restricted from taking an Advanced Placement African-American History course administered by College Board. These efforts not only undermine Black authors, but also overwhelmingly affect older students rather than the young and innocent ones.
Ultimately, we, as a country, are coming full circle this Black History Month. We are witnessing another aspect of anti-Black racism, similar to the inception of the holiday altogether. Although historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded a Black History Week in 1926, legislation to honor a National Black History Month was passed in 1986 (Public Law 99-244). Even with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the legislation to enact a holiday was presented just four days after his assassination in 1968. It took 15 years for a president to sign the bill into law. African-American civil rights activists persisted for decades to get formal representation, so adults, specifically educators, must remain resourceful amidst these book bans.
This Black History Month, expose the Black children in your life to some unsung heroes like Bayard Rustin and Mary Jackson, subjects of the movies Rustin (2023) and Hidden Figures (2016) respectively; Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, the first man to perform a successful open-heart surgery; and Lewis Latimer, who made improvements to Thomas Edison’s lightbulb. Black children should know they can become anything they set their minds to: doctors, engineers, activists or writers.
Garcia, R. (2024, January 20). American Library Association releases preliminary data on 2023 book challenges. American Library Association. https://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2023/09/american-library-association-releases-preliminary-data-2023-book-challenges