Black baseball legends Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, and Roberto Clemente—and their triumphs in the face of racism—are apparently not appropriate reading for students in one large Florida district.
Children’s books that tell the stories of how the three sports heroes broke color barriers and battled racism during their lives have been removed from libraries in Duval County Public Schools, which is about the 20th-largest district in the country.
Florida schools have become a hotbed for the censorship of books about racism and the LGBTQ community since Gov. Ron DeSantis began attacking “woke culture.” The Republican with presidential aspirations and emboldened by a landslide reelection victory has championed the state’s “Don’t Say Gay Law” and stifled instruction about racism in a battle against critical race theory.
When it comes to Robinson, Aaron and Clemente, the decision to block their stories by administrators in Duval County Public Schools appears even more unusual. The three books appear to have had a very short shelf-life—they were expelled along with more than 170 other titles in early 2022 shortly after they’d been acquired with the district’s purchase of the Essential Voices Classroom Libraries Collection, according to PEN America, an anti-censorship organization.
Robinson was talented enough to break baseball’s color barrier, becoming the first Black player in the major leagues in 1947 while Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record and held it for 33 years. Clemente was a generational talent who also did extensive charity work in his native Puerto Rico and elsewhere in the Caribbean and Latin America. All three men were inducted into the baseball hall of fame and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Duval County administrators gave an update late last month on how the district is complying with Florida laws on library books. They did not address the baseball books specifically, saying “the Florida Department of Education has trained all Florida schools districts to ‘err on the side of caution’ in determining if a book is developmentally appropriate for student use.”
The law states that books in school libraries and classroom collections must be free from pornography, instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3, and “discrimination in such a way that an individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin is inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.” Violating the law is a felony.
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“Teachers will receive a list of already approved books for continued use for classroom reading while the remaining books are under review,” the administrators said in the update. “District staff members are working with teachers and certified media specialists to efficiently review books and to update the list as books are reviewed and approved.”
Beyond Jackie Robinson and baseball ⚾️
The Essential Voice collection “features characters representing a variety of ethnicities, religious affiliations, and gender identities,” PEN America says. The three banned baseball books are:
- Thank You, Jackie Robinson, by Barbara Cohen and Richard Cuffari
- Henry Aaron’s Dream, by Matt Tavares
- Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates, by Jonah Winter and Raúl Colón
“They have been kept in storage for 10 months with little indication of when they might return to classrooms,” PEN America said.
Children’s picture books such as Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, Dim Sum for Everyone! by Grace Lin, and Berenstain Bears and the Big Question by Stan and Jan Berenstain were among the dozens of others removed from Duval County Schools.
In one show of defiance, a Jacksonville bookstore has created a “Books Recently Banned in Duval County” collection. Chamblin Bookmine has hung the definition of “censored” in front of the display, Manager Abby Bell told FirstCoastNews.