PERSPECTIVES: Book Censorship Seems Boundaryless

Roberto Clemente died in the quest to deliver food to earthquake victims. 

Mr. Rick Stevens is a Florida pastor who serves on a book-reviewing subcommittee for the Florida Citizens Alliance. In that role, he said school librarians should welcome an extra pair of eyes to review books. He believes that will lead to more pristine school libraries stocked solely with texts devoted to reading, writing, and arithmetic fundamentals. But, he also says, “Sexual issues and sexuality — our children don’t need to be introduced to that. We don’t have to feel responsible for providing every kind of material for students.”

As a budding baseball-playing youth growing up during the 1950s, my favorite team was the Brooklyn Dodgers, and I liked the team even when adults and contemporaries in my life referred to it as “That N-word team.”

After all, what player could be better for a young boy to worship than Jackie Robinson or Roy Campanella? Then arrived Roberto Clemente, who dazzled fans and me with his play in the right field and with his hitting. While my Brooklyn Dodgers signed Clemente in 1955, a mistake by the team allowed him to be drafted by the Pittsburg Pirates in 1956, where he spent his baseball career. Nevertheless, he and the Dodgers inspired me during my short career as a right fielder.

That is why I was surprised to read that a large Florida school district–Duval County Public Schools–removed a child’s biography of Clemente to determine if it is “developmentally appropriate for student use.” According to news reports, new Florida law states that a certified media specialist must review all books in school libraries and classroom collections for independent reading. Books need to be free from

*Pornography – defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement.”

*Instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in grades kindergarten through three.

*Discrimination in such a way that “an individual, by his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, is inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

That last requirement must be why Jonah Winter’s picture book, Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates, was pulled from the shelves in Duval County. It is the story, illustrated by Raul Colon, of the Baseball Hall of Fame player, Latino great, and humanitarian.

Clemente is still revered in the Caribbean community for his baseball powers and remembered for the 1972 humanitarian flight to help earthquake victims in Nicaragua. Because reports explained that earlier aid to the victims had been stolen, Clemente decided to accompany the next shipment to ensure its safety. The plane he rode crashed on takeoff, and the great Clemente was killed. Winter tells Clemente’s inspiring story, and part of it is the racism he faced as a rookie in the Major Leagues.

So, I wonder if this picture book was removed for inspection because Winter told the complete story of Clemente’s climb from the life of a poor boy in Puerto Rico to a $10,000 signing bonus, 1955-which was huge in that era. Yes, the book includes a few pages about the discrimination Clemente endured, so will it be banned after its removal for evaluation for that reason?

Since Pastor Stevens is on a committee of citizen reviewers and another set of eyes for librarians, I wonder if he will remove any Bibles from public school shelves in Florida. After all, the Old Testament book of Judges has stories like that of Jephthah, who killed his daughter. It also describes how Sampson brutalized foxes and lusted after harlots so much that he allowed one to betray him. Will he remove Bibles because Genesis 6 tells the story of the “men of renown” who saw the daughters of the earth and mated with them?

These and other parts of the Bible are far from pristine, but I wager that Pastor Stevens and other folk involved in the FCA would argue that while the Bible does contain those stories and more like them, its total message is of great importance. For instance, to understand and fully appreciate King David, we will be more capable of doing so when we know from whence he came and the struggles he endured, such as learning about his early life as a shepherd boy and the rape of his daughter Tamar by her half-brother Amnon. Both of these experiences, and more, are parts of King David’s life. They helped mold his character just like discrimination helped shape Clemente.

To remove the uncomfortable parts of life is to tell our children that lives are pristine, level, and without difficulties. Still, even Jesus warned us that trials and tribulations must be endured. Books about folks who overcame diversity inspire our children and should never be removed unless they are being checked out to read and study.

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