Alabama Schools Cancel Black History Month Appearance Of Black Children’s Book Author Amid Wave Of Book Bans
A New York Times bestselling author suspects that he was targeted in the wave of Black writer book bans in red states.
Derrick Barnes, a children’s book author, told Alabama station WIAT Thursday (Jan. 26) that he believes school officials in Hoover and Alabaster, Ala., canceled his book readings, scheduled for Black History Month, without explanation for political reasons–motivated by fear and ignorance.
In 2021, Alabama’s state board of education banned Critical Race Theory (CRT) in K-12 schools. Alabama is just one of several mostly GOP-dominated state governments to oppose CRT, a college-level academic framework to analyze systemic racism that is not taught at elementary or secondary schools.
But conservatives have applied a CRT label on any classroom lessons or materials involving race and America’s racist history – whitewashing history, critics say.
According to Newsweek, a disproportionate number of banned books are by writers of color, as well as those with an LGBTQ background.
Under the CRT banner, school officials have banned a long list of classic Black literature: including Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, and Richard Wright’s Native Son, according to the ACLU.
On Wednesday (Jan. 25), Bluff Park Elementary School in Hoover notified staff that Barnes would not visit the school as planned. A school official later told WIAT that the cancellations were due to a contract issue.
After WIAT published its story, Alabaster City Schools told the station that it is working on “clarifying logistics and any miscommunication surrounding his original date” with Barnes’ team.
Barnes said it would be a “boldfaced lie” to imply that he backed out of the events.
A graduate of Jackson State University from Kansas City, Mo., Barnes is the author of Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, which his website notes has won multiple awards, including a Newbery Honor, a Coretta Scott King Author Honor, the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award, and the Kirkus Prize for Young Readers.
Crown, a 2017 children’s book that he planned to read to the students in Alabama, is a poem inspired by seeing a drawing of his illustrator’s teen son after a trip to the barber.
“It took me back to when I was a kid, and how sitting in that barber’s chair and receiving a dope haircut was probably the only place in the Black community where boys are treated like royalty. Still are,” he said. “It’s a poem about self-affirmation and how the world may not see your brilliance, or your beauty, but you do, and everyone around you that loves you can definitely see it, recognize it.”
Barnes told WIAT that his children’s books have no rationally objectionable material and children of all races could benefit from reading them.
“It’s important that white children, too, get a chance to see children that don’t look like them doing the same things they do: having a family, having people around them that love and care about them, and just doing everyday things,” Barnes said.