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Protestors in Florida read from banned books, defying the state's education policies

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

The Association for the Study of African American Life and History Conference wraps up today in Jacksonville, Fla. The policies of Governor Ron DeSantis led scholars and teachers to hold a public read-aloud of books from authors whose work is in the state's crosshairs. Will Brown with member station WJCT was there.

WILL BROWN, BYLINE: Amid the high humidity, more than 200 people protested Florida's racial climate by reading passages from authors whose work has been restricted from schools here. Speakers read from James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Amanda Gorman, Toni Morrison and others.

ASALH President Marvin Dulaney and the presidents of six Florida chapters started with Nikole Hannah-Jones' "1619 Project." The book won a Pulitzer Prize for its examination of slavery and the legacy of Black Americans. It's also banned from Florida classrooms under a law signed in April 2022 that restricts race-related instruction.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Reading) Learning history made the world make sense. It provided the key to decode all that I saw around me.

BROWN: The significance of the location was not lost on Dulaney, who said the reading at a park named after James Weldon Johnson exemplified Black resistance. Johnson, a Jacksonville native, wrote the Black national anthem.

MARVIN DULANEY: We're supposed to be an open society. The last society that banned books was Nazi Germany. Not only did Nazi Germany ban books. They burned the books. So we want to counter all of that and show that learning, sharing information is a positive thing and not a negative one.

BROWN: Scores of people filed into the park, renamed three years ago. They stretched onto a grassy area that, for more than a century, contained a statue of a Confederate soldier. The gathering was less than a month after a white supremacist killed three Black people at a local Dollar General. Deirdre Foreman teaches African American studies at Rampano (ph) College in New Jersey. She came to northeast Florida because it was vital to argue against false narratives about Black culture and books by African American authors.

DEIRDRE FOREMAN: No one should be deprived the opportunity to read and learn more about the world and other cultures. I don't care whose culture it is, right? This is America.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BROWN: The event concluded with former Spelman College President Johnnetta Betsch Cole reading from Maya Angelou's "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings." Moments after Cole finished, the skies delivered a downpour, but the spoken words had already breached the atmosphere.

For NPR News, I'm Will Brown in Jacksonville, Fla.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Will Brown