Those Darn Words

"Without a deep dive into the history of censorship, I'm guessing church people, politicians and zealots of all stripes have been trying to stamp down the idea of books and thoughts for all."

Those Darn Words
Photo by Joe Ciciarelli on Unsplash

Facebook is rife with memes these days.

Quotes, some real--some fake, printed on a background of color, or perhaps an image.

This one just popped up on my Facebook page, in FB's humble opinion, "Suggested for you."

I don't think I've ever seen Robert Heinlein quoted on Facebook before.  Even with typos.

Robert Heinlein was one of the first authors I was allowed to check out of the library at Ben Franklin Elementary in Wichita Falls.  In the whole library, there was about half a shelf of science fiction books by Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke.  

We--or I--weren't allowed to check out books until the third grade, and then I headed straight for that shelf.  I read and re-read every book on it.

I guess there's a certain irony my first library experience happened in a building named for Benjamin Franklin, the father of the free public library in the United States.  From his personal diary:

“…by thus clubbing our books to a common library, we should, while we lik’d to keep them together, have each of us the advantage of using the books of all the other members, which would be nearly as beneficial as if each owned the whole.”  

The early iteration of Franklin's library was housed on the second floor of the Pennsylvania State House, or what became known as, wait for it, Independence Hall.  You might have seen its front facade, bathed in red, white and blue, behind President Biden in his consequential speech the other night.

That small collection of books, bought by the fifty members of the Philadelphia Junto (Philosophical Society), morphed into a public lending library.  In other words, by 1770, there were public libraries:  so the concept is older than the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the United States itself.

Without a deep dive into the history of censorship, I'm guessing church people, politicians and zealots of all stripes, have been trying to stamp down the idea of books and thoughts for all, since then, too.

Certainly, the concept of killing off words caught fire in more than one country in the last century.  There's even a memorial to Nazi book burning.  It's "The Empty Library" on Unter den Linden in the center of Berlin--designed, of course, by an Israeli:  a sculptor name Micha Ullman.

A few years ago, I stumbled into a little censorship squabble here in Temple--the little city straddling I-35 between Waco and Austin.

For Pride Month, the Temple Public Library had laid out a card table with a poster of rainbows and hearts and few books about LGBTQ themes.  There was not a peep of public, or even private, complaint.

But a couple of months later, a local preacher ginned up a petition drive aimed at forcing the library to modify it's policy concerning "controversies."  Of course, it turned out he was also running for the GOP nomination for State Representative--just a coincidence, I'm sure.  That wound up as a three-way contest between the preacher, a local gun-fetishist and the incumbent.  All competed with strident anti-gay rhetoric, and then the incumbent won and went back to Austin.

But I digress.  At the time, I was sufficiently incensed to sign up and speak at the library board's public hearing on the kerfuffle.

My script:

Words of wisdom?

Those words didn't sway anyone.  Eventually the library board did refine its policy language, so the squeaky wheel probably won.  

That was all a few years ago.

Now the church people, politicians and zealots of all stripes are back--hard at work across the state of Texas trying to whitewash our history, privatise our schools and cleanse our libraries.  

Election years provide ample incentive for politicians:

Republican Greg Abbott of Texas is seeking reelection this year and has backed the effort to remove books from school libraries after State Representative Matt Krause sent a list of 850 books to the Texas Education Agency asking to be banned. Gov. Abbott has written multiple letters to state education leaders and groups, asking them to “protect” students from content he called “pornographic.”

Protection seems to be in the mind of the beholder. Sex may be on the mind of the Governor at one moment, but "Holy whiplash, Batman!"

“Freedom of speech is under attack in Texas,” Abbott stated. “There is a dangerous movement by some social media companies to silence conservative ideas and values.”

Since the culture wars tend to follow the election calendar, this year is no different, as the Abbotts, Paxtons, and Patricks fight to diminish the school libraries of Texas.

The Houston Chronicle looked into book banning in Texas schools in August and found, surprise!

“Most efforts to ban books in Texas schools came from 1 politician and GOP pressure, not parents.”
Most efforts to ban books in Texas schools came from 1 politician and GOP pressure, not parents
The Chronicle’s findings represent one of the clearest assessments to date of the...

Though the writers from my favorite shelf in the library at Ben Franklin aren’t around in person to protect us, their words still cut through the BS:

There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. -Ray Bradbury

Texas voters will get their chance in November to piss on extinguish a few of those matches.  Early voting begins on October 24th.  Election day is Tuesday, November 8.

Larry Weidman is a retired local and network TV newsman. He’s lived and worked in Germany, Italy, and Israel, in addition to many, many decades in Texas. His great-great-great grandfather arrived at the San Jacinto Battlefield the day after the battle.