Tennessee Prison Bans Prisoners From Reading Autobiography Of Malcolm X

Tennessee Prison Bans Prisoners From Reading Autobiography Of Malcolm X

Malcolm X

Photo: Malcolm X Shabazz is shown in 1963. (AP Photo)

A Tennessee State Department of Corrections prison has banned prisoners from reading “The Autobiography Of Malcolm X”, according to Books To Prisoners, a Seattle-based nonprofit that sends free books to the incarcerated.

Published in 1965, the book is based on a series of interviews journalist Alex Haley conducted with former Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X about his life. It discusses how Malcolm X evolved from being incarcerated to becoming a major figure in the civil rights movement.

“Here’s a book rejection that we just received from a prison in Tennessee: ‘Malcolm X not allowed'” tweeted Books to Prisoners @B2PSeattle. “This is part of an insidious pattern of targeted bans by prisons against Black authors and against literature critiquing the prison system and power structures in this country.”

Accompanying the tweet is a photo of a rejected package.

Books To Prisoners mails free books to prisoners nationwide. According to its website, it has a mission to foster a love of reading behind bars, encourage the pursuit of knowledge and self-empowerment, and break the cycle of recidivism.

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The organization fulfills prisoner requests for books and receives approximately 1,000 requests for books each month. It was founded in the early 1970s and is sponsored by Left Bank Books, a used bookstore in Seattle.

Many on Twitter commented.

“So the Tennessee State Department of Corrections bans the Autobiography of Malcolm X. This is how much the U.S. fears Black folk in this country thinking more in the lane of self determination. It challenges their power and they will quell it even on the level of those incarcerat(ed),” Ali McBride (@GullyBlack) tweeted.

“This is disgusting but I am not at all surprised. Malcolm X is a threat to the job security of ‘for profit prison’ (plantation 2.0),” Shoutout13 @shoutout13tweet tweeted.

Johanna Wick (@guninmybirkin) noted the irony of the ban. “Crineeeeeeeee they said get that former prisoner changed his life around shit out of here,” Wick tweeted.

It’s not unusual for books to be banned in prisons, and the list of books depends on the prison. The banning seems to follow no real rhyme or reason, although prisons claim that they ban books with sexual or obscene content, depictions of violence, or escape.        

The list of books banned by various U.S. prisons and jails includes many written by Black authors such as “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” “The Souls of Black Folk” by W.E.B. DuBois, “Dreams From My Father” by Barack Obama, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, and “Kindred” by Octavia Butler.

Many states follow arbitrary policies that exclude books on civil rights, human rights, and American history—especially those by Black authors, according to the Equal Justice Initiative.

Free speech activists say the banning is censorship and violates the First Amendment.

The most extensive book banning in the U.S. is in state and federal prisons, according to a 2019 study by PEN America. The free-speech organization is petitioning the U.S. Congress to convene immediate hearings on book banning in prisons, declaring that Congress must “shed light on this critical right to read where it is being thwarted most severely,” The Guardian reported.

“The result is a book-banning system that fails incarcerated people and fails to live up to our democratic and constitutional ideals,” PEN America said in a statement. “As both a practical and a moral matter, it is time to re-evaluate the state of the right to read within American prisons.”

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Photo: Malcolm X Shabazz is shown in 1963. (AP Photo)