As a part of Banned Books Week, which runs from September 27th through October 3rd in 2020, we will be exploring the nature of censorship and banning in the United States. Each book will convey a different lesson on how censorship works in a country with an established law protecting freedom of speech and press like the First Amendment. For this year’s theme, Maine Authors, we will take a look at the works of authors with a connection to Maine.

Make sure to check this post throughout the week, as we will be updating each day with a new banned book.

Carrie by Stephen King

One of Bangor author Stephen King’s most famous novels, Carrie revolves around Carrie White, a high-school girl from an abusive religious household who uses her newly discovered telekinetic powers to exact revenge on those who torment her. It is one of the most frequently banned books in United States schools, because of Carrie’s violence, cursing, underage sex, and negative view of religion. Much of the book uses newspaper clippings, magazine articles, letters, and excerpts from books to tell how Carrie destroyed the fictional town of Chamberlain, Maine while exacting revenge on her sadistic classmates and her own mother, Margaret.

This book has been banned in Nevada, Vermont, Iowa, New York, Pennsylvania, and North Dakota. But how does banning a book work? The process of banning a book begins with the individual who is issuing the challenge, usually a parent or librarian. A challenge is “an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.” A challenge is the beginning of the process towards getting a book banned, which means that many challenges do not fall through. Schools, bookstores, and libraries are the only places that can ban books that have been challenged. Once a challenge is made, the institution in question can either ban the book from the premises or deny the challenge. Bans are made on an institutional basis, which means if a book is banned in one library, it is not banned in all others.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

How could anyone ban the classic children’s book Goodnight Moon? Anne Carroll Moore was a staffer at the New York Public Library (NYPL) in 1906 and had the responsibility of supervising the children’s collections. She was also a tastemaker whose NYPL-branded lists of recommended children’s books could make or break a book’s fortunes. Moore’s taste was particular, however. When Brown’s famous book was released in 1947, Moore found it an “unbearably sentimental piece of work.” Therefore, the book wasn’t purchased by the New York Public Library, and while children were encouraged to check out all kinds of books from the library’s extensive children’s department, Goodnight Moon was not one of them. 

In part because of Moore’s blacklisting, Goodnight Moon wasn’t an immediate commercial success; by 1951 sales had dropped low enough that the publisher considered taking it out of print. The book regained popularity in the 1950s and 1960s as chains such as Waldenbooks and B. Dalton grew. By 1972, the book’s 25th anniversary, Goodnight Moon was nearing 100,000 copies sold a year. Perhaps it was that anniversary that spurred the library to finally stock the book. As mentioned in the blurb above about Carrie, banning can only be done on an institutional level. In the case of Goodnight Moon, it was done on the whim of a single individual with pretty substantial consequences.

Author Margaret Wise Brown would never live to see the explosion in popularity of her book due to the tastes of a single staff member at the NYPL. Brown died in 1952. Her ashes were scattered near her island home in Vinalhaven, Maine.

Check back in tomorrow for our third Banned Book!

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Update from September: We’ve edited this post to include more events through the month of August, 2020. Jump to the new additions.

While the freedom to protest is not mentioned specifically in the First Amendment, the right to voice dissent is a long-standing American tradition, and protest became an officially recognized form of assembly by the US Supreme Court in their 1969 ruling in Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham

The state of the country in the last few months has underscored the importance of Americans living their First Amendment freedoms. From the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, an unhindered free press has proved vital in publishing information on how Americans can stay safe and healthy. People have also exercised their right to peaceably assemble, with many “Reopen” protests spreading throughout the country in response to state-mandated shutdowns. 

The five freedoms of the First Amendment work in concert to empower change. They protect our freedom to believe in new ideas, to vocalize those ideas, to explain or defend those ideas in the press, to assemble in support of those ideas, and to officially petition the government to legislate in favor of those ideas. When embraced simultaneously by enough people, they create a movement. 

George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020 has brought about a massive wave of protest against racial injustice, the likes of which were last witnessed half a century ago when cities around the nation erupted in response to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  

In the past several months, Black Lives Matter protests have occurred in every state of the Union, ranging from hundreds of thousands of people in large cities to single individuals on rural street corners. In fact, this movement has encouraged people around the world to stand in solidarity with Americans seeking to build a more just society, and thousands upon thousands of people have come together in peaceful gatherings, vigils, marches, and speeches to protest racism.

By utilizing internet and social media technologies, Black Lives Matter organizers have reached more people, planned more assemblies, and gathered more signatures than ever before. For instance, in less than a month of its creation, more than 18 million people signed the “Justice for George Floyd” petition. Online petitions enable calls for action to reach a wider audience at lightning speed, and, when combined with assembled multitudes demanding change, result in heightened levels of civic and social pressure.  

We have witnessed recent infringements on the First Amendment, too. According to the Press Freedom Tracker, there have been over 800 reported incidents of aggression against the press, including denial of access, equipment damage, physical attacks, and 100+ arrests. There have also been clear violations of the freedom to peaceably assemble, with peaceful protesters across the nation having been attacked with tear gas and rubber bullets

Any time an individual and/or a community is marginalized, silenced, alienated, or excluded, there is a First Amendment issue at stake, because we should all have equal access to our First Amendment rights. Those rights give us a voice to stand against injustice, and they give us the power to change it. They allow us to have dreams for the future of our country, and to turn those dreams into realities.  

In the last few months, we have witnessed how Americans create change by exercising their First Amendment freedoms. If you are planning on exercising your Constitutional right to peaceably assemble, below are some resources to help you to stay safe from a health perspective, and protected, from a legal perspective:

Resource for Protesting Safely during COVID-19 pandemic

Resource for Knowing Your Legal Rights During a Protest

At the First Amendment Museum, where we inspire people to live their freedoms, we celebrate the fact that so many people have been exercising their rights!

The events since late May have showcased the power of protest; more specifically, how mass action by the people has brought pressure to bear on individuals, organizations, communities, and local governments to act on events they would have previously down-played or ignored, and to enact changes at a swifter pace than anticipated, both of which reflect a broader cultural shift that demands racial equality and justice.

May 26

After the video of George Floyd’s murder is widely circulated on social media, protests begin in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where George Floyd was murdered.

May 27

Protests spread to cities across the nation. In Louisville, protestors focus on the recent death of local Breonna Taylor who was shot in her bed by police on March 13.

New articles through August

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