by Angela Johnson —
This September 18-24 is Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of the freedom to read, which began in 1982.
Across the country, there have been continuous efforts to ban books from libraries and schools that deal with issues of race and sexuality. And it’s no coincidence that many of those books were written by LGBTQ or authors of color.
But as conservatives push to keep people from reading these books, it’s important that we push just as hard on the other side to keep them in circulation.
We’ve rounded up some of our favorite books by Black authors that are frequent targets of conservatives. Accused of everything from sexually explicit content to making white people feel bad about slavery, haters just can’t keep these titles out of their mouths.
- “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker – A beautiful story of sisters Celie and Nettie who work to maintain their connection after being separated as young girls. The book won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, but it is the constant target of challenges for “language and explicit content,” including one by a PA school district who called it “smut.”
- “Song of Solomon” by Toni Morrison is one of Oprah Winfrey’s favorite titles, and one of the first picks for her Oprah’s Book Club. But Toni Morrison’s 1977 novel has been challenged by several school districts around the country, including one in Georgia who removed it from required reading lists and library shelves after being deemed “filthy and inappropriate.”
- “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston – A classic piece of American literature and a powerful love story. The book was challenged by a school district in Virginia in 1997 by a parent who took issue with the book’s “language and sexual explicitness.”
- “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison – This 1952 novel tells the story of a young college-educated Black man who is struggling to find his identity. The narrator is purposely nameless to emphasize the experience of being a Black man in America. The book caused controversy in a Washington school district in 1994 after parents raised concerns about violence and profanity included in the book.
- “Native Son” by Richard Wright tells the story of a Black man who killed a white woman in a moment of panic. And although Wright’s story is meant to make a powerful statement on the impact of racism, it has been challenged by several school districts around the country for containing “sexually explicit content.”
- “The New Kid” by Jerry Craft is a bestselling graphic novel for children. Author/illustrator Jerry Craft based the story on his own experience as a Black kit attending a predominately white school in New York City. But a public school district in Texas decided that it promoted Critical Race Theory and Marxism and voted to remove it from their library shelves.
- “Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot” by Mikki Kendall – Mikki Kendall looks at the feminist movement, which she argues is focused on helping those with privilege gain even more. Kendall writes that the movement is neglecting issues like food insecurity, quality education and public safety, all of which are feminist issues that primarily impact women of color. In 2021, the book was placed on a banned list released by Republican Texas state Representative Matt Krause who argued that all of the talk about race in the book might make some (aka, white) students feel uncomfortable.
- “The Hate You Give” by Angie Thomas held a place on The New York Times bestseller list for 50 weeks, received a Coretta Scott King Book Award and was adapted into a feature film. But it also was the target of a whole lot of conservatives who looked to ban the book for violence, profanity and being against the police. The novel, inspired by the Black Lives Matter Movement, centers around a teenage girl who witnesses one of her childhood friends being shot by police.
- “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson is a collection of beautifully personal essays by George M. Johnson. In the book, they share their experience growing up Black and queer. From the bullying and abuse to first loves and special moments with their grandmother, Johnson gives readers a look at everything beautiful and painful of their experience. And the book received plenty of praise, named one of the top 10 teen titles of 2021by the Young Adult Library Services Association of the American Library Association. But of course, conservatives get lost in the profanity and the LGBTQ themes, which they are quick to call “sexually explicit” and even “pornographic.” The American Library Association named it one of the 10 most challenged books of 2021.
- “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison is a classic piece of American literature and a work that solidified her place as one of our most beloved authors. But it is also heavily targeted by those who accuse the book of including offensive language and sexually explicit content. The book was listed on the American Library Association’s (ALA) list of the most challenged books in 2013 and 2014.
- “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou – In her first memoir, Maya Angelou writes beautifully about her childhood after being sent to live with her grandmother in a small town in the South. Angelou shares personal stories, including her abuse at the hands of an older man. Although the book is autobiographical, it stays on the banned book lists that accuse it of being anti-whiteand including sexually explicit content.
- “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds found its way onto the ALA’s top 10 most challenged book list in 2020 because of a statement the author made in public. It was also hit with claims that it contains “selective storytelling incidents” and isn’t inclusive of racism against all people.
- “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Malcolm X and Alex Haley is the story of the legendary civil rights leader as told to Alex Haley. According to a January tweet from Books to Prisoners Seattle, the book was banned by a Tennessee State Department of Corrections prison. The prison returned the book to the nonprofit which donates books to those who are incarcerated with a note that read, “Malcolm X not allowed.”
- “Go Tell it on the Mountain” by James Baldwin tells the story of a fourteen-year-old boy finding his identity as the stepson of a Pentecostal minister. The book was banned twice in New York and Virginia in cases accusing it of being “rife with profanity and explicit sex.”
- “Beloved” by Toni Morrison is a New York Times Bestseller, a Pulitzer Prize winner and required reading in many English classes. It tells the story of Sethe a freed slave who is still haunted by her past. The book, which appeared on the ALA’s top 10 most banned book list in 2012, was criticized for sexually explicit and violent content as well as its religious viewpoint.