Book bans have become a hot-button topic in the last few years. Recently, stories by Black authors that address social issues like racism and police brutality have gone under the microscope. A number of school districts across the country have opted to remove them from libraries and classrooms, despite many believing these books can go a long way to addressing racial inequality in America. For Juneteenth, we’ve made a list of books banned across the country that challenge racism and fight for social justice.
All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
This memoir, written as a series of personal essays, addresses the intersection of racism and homophobia. The author recounts his childhood and shares both fond memories and experiences of discrimination many black and queer people will be able to relate to. Banned in multiple counties in Florida, Michigan, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah, the story proudly advocates for both Black and LGBTQ+ people. The book has been a New York Times Bestseller since 2022.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Despite being originally published in 1970, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison has been banned in multiple counties in Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah since 2022. The story is that of an 11-year-old Black girl named Pecola, who prays for her eyes to turn blue. Morrison beautifully addresses racism, classism, and misogyny by depicting the harsh realities of being a young black girl in America. Themes of unattainable beauty standards and conformity make this story integral in understanding the experiences of Black girls and women.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give is the story of Starr Carter, who lives in a low-income neighborhood and attends an upscale preparatory school. The novel addresses themes of police brutality when Starr’s friend Khalil is murdered by the police. Starr is the only one who knows the truth when the media begins to portray Khalil as a thug and a gang member. It’s up to her to come forward with the truth. This story has been banned in multiple counties in Florida, Missouri, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania since 2022. Angie Thomas’s novel is culturally relevant as it depicts the unnecessary killings of Black Americans at the hands of the police.
Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson
Monday’s Not Coming is a novel that advocates for those disenfranchised and forgotten by society. When Claudia’s best friend, Monday, goes missing, she is the only one to investigate her disappearance. What she finds is that no one seems to remember when they saw Monday last, and no one seems to care. The story is a commentary on those considered “invaluable” by society. The book has been banned from classrooms and libraries in multiple counties in Florida, South Carolina, and Utah.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s brilliant novel addresses colonialism, ethnic allegiance, and class and race disparities in Half of a Yellow Sun. The story follows three people during Biafra’s struggle to gain independence from Nigeria in the 1960s. Their relationships become complicated as the Nigerian military closes in. This beautiful historical fiction novel has been banned in counties in Florida, South Carolina, and Utah.
Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
Allegedly is the story of Mary Addison, a church-going Black woman wrongfully convicted of killing a white baby. Though Mary doesn’t initially say a lot to the detectives, the media fills in the important gaps. After spending six years in jail, Mary is placed in a group home where she fears for her life. She also meets Ted and becomes pregnant. Now with a family on the line, she wants to set the record straight. Tiffany D. Jackson explores the portrayal of Black people in the media and the racism within the justice system. This novel has been banned in counties in Florida, North Dakota, and Utah.
The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
This story of a bi-racial gay teenager named Michael explores themes of identity and what it means to fit in. Michael doesn’t feel either Greek or Black enough to fit in with those communities. When he comes out as gay, he finds comfort and kinship in the drag community, and The Black Flamingo is born. This beautiful novel brings to light the unique experience of being bi-racial and gay in America. The Black Flamingo has been banned in counties in Florida, South Carolina, and Utah since 2022.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Justyce McAllister is a kind, ambitious honors student who finds himself in handcuffs for driving with the music playing too loud. Despite his hard work and dedication, he can’t seem to shake the stigma of being a Black kid from a rough neighborhood. He looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for guidance. The novel brings to light the realities of police brutality faced by Black people in America. It has been banned in counties in Florida, South Carolina, and Texas.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou’s revolutionary memoir has been a staple in English classes for decades. Even so, it has been the subject of scrutiny since its original publication in 1969. The book chronicles Angelou’s lived experiences with racism in the South. Angelou’s poetic and insightful writing has made this a classic in American literature. Critics, however, have been challenging the book for years in an attempt to get it banned. It is currently banned in school districts in Alaska and Illinois, and removed from required reading lists in school districts in Maryland and California. Attempts to ban I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings have made it one of the most challenged and banned books in America.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Lauded as a literary masterpiece, The Color Purple brings to light the unique discrimination faced by Black women. The story tells of two sisters who fight to escape an abusive household and go on to lead very different lives in different countries. Another regular in English course syllabi, The Color Purple won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Even so, the novel has been challenged in schools and libraries for decades and has been removed or banned in at least 5 school libraries in America.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison’s New York Times Bestseller Beloved was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. It tells the story of Sethe, a woman who escaped slavery. She holds many memories of the farm she lived on. Now, after the death of her nameless baby, her new home is haunted. The story is honest and powerful. Despite its critical acclaim, Beloved has been banned in school districts in Florida, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania.
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
Baldwin’s classic and semi-autobiographical debut novel tells the story of the stepson of the minister of a Pentecostal church. It explores the teen’s relationship with both his family and his church. Set in Harlem in 1935, the story is brilliant and innovative. A novel with an undeniably prominent Black voice at the forefront, Go Tell It on the Mountain has been banned in counties in Illinois, Nebraska, New York, and Virginia.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston’s southern love story is another book found in English classes across the country. The relationship between Janie May Crawford and Tea Cake is endearing and depicts the realities of life in 20th-century Florida for Black Americans. This heart-wrenching story was initially rejected for its Black female protagonist. Since 1978, however, it has become a classic in American literature. Despite this, the book was banned from schools in Virginia.
Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall
Mikki Kendall’s Hood Feminism challenges modern feminist activism. Kendall argues for basic needs for women, including access to education, food, and housing. This novel is a series of essays that highlights how poverty, homophobia, and transphobia are all forgotten with modern feminism. Despite this book being a New York Times bestseller, the book has been pulled from schools in Texas as part of a larger movement to ban Critical Race Theory.
The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones
The 1619 Project discusses the legacy of slavery in America today. The book includes a series of poems and short fiction that depict moments of oppression and resistance and how it has shaped current American society. It reframes how slavery is taught and presented. Nikole Hannah-Jones’ novel is a New York Times Bestseller and winner of the NAACP Image Award. Despite this, the book has been banned in Florida and Texas, and is being challenged in a handful of other states.
Banning (or burning) books is an arguably radical response to stories some may view as problematic. The authors of banned books have a right to craft their stories and discuss any topics they feel are important. Many of which have impacted them directly. The targeting of books written by Black authors that specifically challenge prejudice and racism serves only to continue the discrimination they face. In many cases, the history of the United States itself is changed and watered down often for the comfort of white Americans. These banned books serve to understand how racism has shaped our current society and calls for empathy for those who have been disenfranchised.