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South Carolina Honors College

The Censorship of Freedom

by Hannah Mitchell 

Banning and censoring books is at an all-time high in South Carolina and the United States. Banning books restricts information and discourages freedom of thought and expression; it undermines one important foundation of education: teaching children to think for themselves. Any book that could be viewed as controversial or disputable is constantly being put under a microscope by many in our educational system and our government. The constant calls for censorship of books will undoubtedly lead to sheltering children and teenagers instead of allowing them to be exposed to challenging topics and letting them read about the trauma past generations have endured. Censorship not only shields children from the harsh realities of society today and the constant scrutiny those different from the social norms face, but it also counteracts the fight for rights many have fought for decades. 

Many widely taught novels included in the great classics of literature were challenged or banned at some point. In South Carolina, The Great Gatsby was challenged at Baptist College in Charleston because of language and sexual references in the book. The Great Gatsby is now considered the most accurate fictional portrayal of American life during the Jazz Age. Millions of children's reading skills thrived thanks to The Harry Potter series, which was challenged in South Carolina schools in 1999 because the book was said to have a tone of hate, death, no respect, and sheer evil. These books both made history for their captivating characters, unique plot lines, and use of vivid imagery. But the first reaction of some people to these books was immediately to ban them from our youth, because they were different from the standard novels of their time. 

Censoring an author’s words and thoughts and restricting their intellectual property is detrimental to our society. South Carolina’s population continues to grow more diverse. We are diverse in ethnicity, language, education, and religion. The changing topography of South Carolina adds to this diversity: from the piedmont to the sandhills, the Blue Ridge mountains to the coast, there are different dialects and customs. With our growing population and influx of people from across the United States and the world, it is imperative our schools teach books about our differences to combat prejudice and to create and foster empathy.  

The fall of many great civilizations started not as a battle but as a bonfire in which significant works of literature were burned and censored. In 1920s Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution, the Soviet government implemented the mass destruction and burning of foreign and pre-revolutionary books and journals from libraries in an effort to destroy any written material that referenced western ideas or government. Hitler’s rise to power in Nazi Germany included limiting books considered “un-German.” Many works of prominent Jewish writers were reduced to ashes. Both of these societies failed because of the censorship and propaganda they pushed on their people, and this history serves to show us what happens when fear takes control.  

South Carolina is like a quilt; she is made of all the different people and different stories within her folds. She has seen many peoples’ stories of hardship and injustice shoved under the rug, simply because some think those stories are too harsh or not sensitive enough for all to view. She has seen great literary works wasting away in school closets, ripped off the shelves for unsubstantiated claims or generalizations out of fear and ignorance. She has watched us crucify stories and writers because we fear they might change our mind on topics, might make us question an idea we’ve grown too comfortable with. She knows that it is time for this censorship to stop. She knows that this chapter of our history has to come to a close. She knows that this generation, this generation that is so greatly connected and so greatly impassioned by wrongdoing, can make this change. She knows that with a careful consideration of history, an impassioned value for all citizens, an intentional provision of student choice, and a thoughtful review of challenged works, our current banning culture can give rise to a rebirth of community, of empathy, and of intellectual freedom. She knows that readers are our future.

Works Cited 

Alexie, Sherman, and Matt Cosby. “What Students Are Saying About Banning Books From School Libraries.” The New York Times, 18 February 2022, Accessed 2 October 2022.

“Banning books does more harm than good.” The Daily Campus, 15 October 2021, Accessed 2 October 2022.

“Bannings and Burnings in History - Freedom to Read.” Freedom to Read Week, Accessed 3 October 2022. 

Boissoneault, Lorraine. “A Brief History of Book Burning, From the Printing Press to Internet Archives.” Smithsonian Magazine, 31 August 2017, Accessed 2 October 2022.

Bump, Philip. “Analysis | The symbolism of burning books is stark. But in 2021, symbolism is all it is.” The Washington Post, 11 November 2021, Accessed 2 October 2022.

Lee, Anna. “10 banned books in S.C.” Greenville Online, 1 October 2015, Accessed 3 October 2022. 

Webb, Susan L. “Book Banning | The First Amendment Encyclopedia.” Middle Tennessee State University, Accessed 2 October 2022. 

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.