Friday, April 14, 2023

The new face of anti-literacy is just as ugly as it ever was

Southern slave states enacted anti-literacy laws between 1740 and 1834, prohibiting anyone from teaching enslaved and free people of color to read or write. While school was difficult to attain in the North, it wasn’t illegal. Breaking anti literacy laws in the South was dangerous for students and teachers alike: In most southern states, anyone caught teaching a slave to read would be fined, imprisoned, or whipped. The slaves themselves often suffered severe punishment for the crime of literacy, from savage beatings to the amputation of fingers and toes.

Today’s efforts to criminalize librarians for providing “dangerous” material is a modern revision of anti-literacy laws, and its effect is no less chilling.

Indiana and Iowa
North Dakota
Montana: "There needs to be some book burning."

The current hostility and accusations are having a chilling effect on librarians.

A Louisiana librarian says she no longer feels safe in public after the state attorney general and conservative groups accused local librarians of trying to “groom” and “sexualize” kids by offering books with LGBTQ+ themes.

“I am scared to go places in public,” Amanda Jones, a middle school librarian in Denham Springs, told PBS News Hour. “I fear for my safety, I purchased a taser. I purchased pepper spray. I got additional security cameras around my home.”