The Next Generation United Daughters of the Confederacy: Book Censorship News, April 28, 2023

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

In 1894, a group of women banded together to honor their history and legacy. These women, all white, established themselves as the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) in Nashville and set to work venerating the history of the Confederacy. UDC established both a national chapter and chapters throughout member states in the south, their messaging coming from the top and disseminating down to the ground.

The UDC saw their primary mission as supporting and encouraging the erection of confederate monuments across the south. In doing so, they hoped to “tell of the glorious fight against the greatest odds a nation ever faced, that their hallowed memory should never die.” UDC members created an offshoot of their organization called the Children of the Confederacy, wherein young people were taught a version of the Civil War and Southern Heritage that never existed but, indeed, was a mythos of White Supremacy.

Although commemorating Civil War history became the UDC’s biggest cause, it was far from their only one. Indeed, the UDC lobbied and advocated for a specific version of history to be taught in southern classrooms, based in Lyon Gardiner Tyler’s Catechism on the History of the Confederate States of America, 1861–1865. Tyler, who was the son of 10th president John Tyler, defended the notion that Northerners only ended slavery because of their climate and that they were far more cruel owners than their southern counterparts who were caring, gentle, and loyal to the people they enslaved. This, for those who might be unfamiliar with the phrase, is the Lost Cause mythology.

UDC defended the Lost Cause so ardently that they knew in order to perpetrate their white history mythos, they’d need to do more than have a group dedicated to teaching young people this story. They’d need to get themselves into the classrooms of every school they could to ensure their side of history was presented. And not only did they need to present their side, they needed to silence the truth.

So naturally, UDC members — women, Moms, even — began to claw their messages into classrooms. Not only did they advocate for a certain brand of history but they fought to remove texts which didn’t align with their beliefs. They also wrote their own texts and books, despite having no training in education, child development, writing, or even history, and they got them into classrooms across the south.

Among the first and most influential was The Ku Klux Klan or Invisible Empire by UDC member Laura Martin Rose. This was not a blip in history; the book was used across the state of Mississippi with school children, who were fed a story of the happy enslaved person and the evil northerners who ended their freedom. The UDC codified what they believed to be appropriate material for school children in Measuring Rod to Test Text Books and Reference Books by Mildred Rutherford, published in 1920. It codified the Lost Cause narrative and lent “support” for their side of history. Rutherford was, of course, engaged in the UDC as their historian and earned a legacy as a prominent white supremacist (and yes, the UDC vehemently opposed the idea they were white supremacists).

Pages from Measuring Rod book, acquired via the internet archive.

The guide to appropriate texts cherrypicked passages to fit their narrative, including sources such as the mid-1800s New York Herald which had a pro-slavery stance. These passages appear without context to bolster their historical narrative.

Just a year after publishing the 24-page document, Rutherford then produced a longer work titled Truths of History. Further arguments bolstered the Lost Cause within the book, and also included were scads of books deemed inappropriate for students to have access to. Indeed, it was a blacklist of books not to be found in schools, and indeed, the committees within the UDC who had political ties began to lobby their state legislators to ban the books at the state level.

They were successful, too.

Image from the truths of history book, pulled from archive.org
Image of screen shot from truths of history text
Image of screen shot from truths of history text

There are still people alive today who learned history in the south based on the recommendations of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Whose classroom lessons and textbooks perpetuated the lies of the Lost Cause and white supremacy. Those textbooks were used past the Jim Crow era.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy still exist and still operate today. But this is not about them.

Instead, it’s about how their playbook is the same playbook by those who insisted on establishing the 1776 commission to spread lies about American history.

It’s the playbook used by Moms for Liberty, who decided what is to be allowed in the hands of young people.

Who claim that schools are indoctrinating children — the ones they are raising and the ones in which they want to instill their versions of truth.

These Moms believe themselves authorities. They are purveyors of a brand of white power and supremacy, making their names known as “defenders of liberty” and “parental rights,” in the same exact manner as the UDC and the “Lost Cause.” They believe they can determine books that are and are not appropriate, and they can write a lengthy blacklist using “evidence” they cherry pick.

text from moms for liberty's memo about "moms for libraries."

The tactics, the language, and the methods are the same…and so, too, is it the same that history repeats itself when history is erased by such groups. Thus why politicians continue to buy into it and pass laws which come directly from the small, but loud and well-connected bigots.

Moms for Liberty are not the only group actively working against First Amendment Rights for all, and stating that so plainly matters. The more we focus exclusively on them as book banners, the bigger their platform and egos grow. It’s great advertising for their brand. UDC still exist for a reason — and there will be groups like them and Moms well into the future.

They are but one group of fleas continuing to sprout up, rooting themselves into the skin of American history’s whitewashed past. Even if they do not prevail, they have laid so many eggs for others to emerge and continue.

Being aware of the history of these “liberty” minded groups, bent on erasing entire groups and legacies of people with their false narratives, lies, and work to codify christian nationalism and whiteness as law, is crucial in order to keep fighting the good fight.

Book Censorship News: April 28, 2023

  • Gender Queer, This Book is Gay, Lawn Boy, All Boys Aren’t Blue, The Bluest Eye, and Out of Darkness were all just banned at the Ada Public Library (ID).
  • Guess what though? They were in violation of the Open Meetings Act and now all of those books are back on shelves. Whoops.
  • The Blount County Public Library (TN) will not be removing two books as requested by local complaints, but they will be relocating Gender Queer from the teen section to the adult section. Usually reshelving can be considered quiet censorship, but since Gender Queer was published as an adult book, this doesn’t meet the criteria.
  • “A banned book display at Lander Valley High School that included titles such as The Great Gatsby, Slaughterhouse 5, and Two Boys Kissing sparked controversy last week, with Fremont County School District #1 (WY) Board Chair Jared Kail calling some of the selections ‘for lack of a better term — the woke left.'” The woke left are weirdly not the ones banning the books. This guy is on a school board, y’all.
  • Alabama’s Secretary of the Department of Early Childhood Education has resigned following the state determining a book used as an educator resource for pre-K kids was inappropriate. Read this one again: the book used by educators was deemed inappropriate.
  • “The St. Tammany Library Board [LA] has approved policy that would prevent books from being removed from shelves when multiple and subsequent challenges are filed for the same title.” This is what should be happening across the country.
  • The Northwest Regional Library (FL) has just opened a book sanctuary. While I love the idea and know it is necessary, especially in Florida, this is fuel for the fire of those who “don’t want to ban books” but “take them out of the schools” since “they’re at the public library.”
  • The ACLU is now involved in working to end the book banning at Canby Public Schools (OR).
  • Canby’s school is now in the process of forming their review committees. Recall it was TWO PARENTS who had 36 books banned from the school. Yes, banned — they are not on shelves during all of this.
  • Union County, North Carolina, schools are about the vote on a new policy that would blanket ban anything not falling under this vague nonsense: “Classroom displays shall be limited to materials which represent the United States, the State of North Carolina, the school name and mascot, and/or are related to tie directly to the curriculum.”
  • The response from Rancho Santa Fe School Officials (CA) about rumors related to the removal of queer books is something else. It begins with “these are rumors,” followed by “yes, we pulled a bunch of queer books FROM THE SCHOOL BOOK SALE because they might make some bigots mad.” So you’re liars?
  • Escambia County Schools (FL) will be giving parents the choice to opt-in their kids to book access. Let us recall how many parents actually have done this in other districts across Florida.
  • The Central York administration (PA) and bigoted parents should be embarrassed about their actions and behavior. The kids are all right.
  • “Stirewalt said multiple parents had come to her with concerns about reading materials they said their children were being exposed to in school. One instance involved a 3rd grade student who was having nightmares as a result of a story he had read in class. The story was a single Student Reader, Unit 6, titled ‘Gods, Giants, and Dwarves.’ It tells Norse mythology stories. When Stirewalt talked with her district’s, Peters Creek, school board representative, Ryan Lawson, about the issue, the story was then removed from the curriculum in that 3rd grade class, she said.” One parent complaint got a story removed…a story from Norse mythology. The bigger part of this though is that the people lodging complaints about materials in Patrick County schools (VA) is that most of the books are not even in the district.
  • Currently at the Sandy Hook school district — yes, that one in Connecticut — two books are being challenged for being queer: Blankets and Flamer.
  • “Speakers said history book for Advanced Placement juniors is biased against Donald Trump.” Welcome to Murrieta Valley School District (CA).
  • Far right protestors of a drag story time were removed from a California public library this week. You know what does damage to young people? It’s not the drag. It’s the protestors who think they are above the law.
  • “I am aware of the image that was being spoken of in the paper, and I know the difference between a manufactured apparatus and real genitalia. This is a diversion from the primary concern with the book, a smokescreen, and does not deal with the image in the book that I and several others also mentioned.” This is a real quote in response to an article about why bigots want to ban Gender Queer at the Deckerville Public Library (MI).
  • A new law in Kentucky states that every school must set up a system wherein if a parent complains about any material, their student will no longer have access to it. What even?
  • Dorchester School District Two (SC) updated their book challenge policy such that only parents and legal guardians can now challenge material — not just anyone with access to Moms For Liberty’s BookLooks site and too much time on their hands.
  • So FlaglerLive, the “news” site, thinks that Damsel is not appropriate in high schools? A newspaper…advocating for a book to be removed? What authority do they have again as educators or specialists in literacy and child development? It’s nice they don’t put a byline here because who wants to be outed as part of the book banning crew.
  • “In light of the recent outcry, school board members voted unanimously to begin a 30-day review of regulations to challenge books in district libraries. Anything with sexual content, ethnic intimidation, or other mature topics will be reviewed.” The hell is “ethnic intimidation?” This is Hempsfield, Pennsylvania, and it is absurd.
  • In Elmhurst, Illinois — which has its own special group of bigots — the book crisis actors are mad about American Street by Ibi Zoboi.
  • Parents in the Strasburg school district (PA) are upset that their kids bought some queer-themed books at the book fair. This is apparently the school’s fault? I thought we were advocating for parental rights…you know, where you’d tell your kid not to buy those books. But now you want the government school to coparent with you?
  • The RSU 14 (ME) review committee recommended keeping Gender Queer on shelves but it needs to go before the board again, since that decision’s been appealed.
  • The Ballston Spa Central School District (NY) will keep Gender Queer on shelves, though.
  • Grinnell-Newburg community schools (IA) are hearing complaints about the use of The Glass Castle in classrooms. Read this one for the incredible student response; grownups are embarrassing the hell out of them.
  • “Approximately 300 people gathered in front of the Salida Regional Library yesterday as part of protest against a planned ‘Rosary Rally’ organized by members of St. Joseph Catholic Church to oppose LGBTQ books in the library. Rosary Rallies have been associated with the Catholic activist group America Needs Fatima, named after the series of apparitions and miracles that occurred in Portugal in 1917. America Needs Fatima’s website identified April 19 as a day of Rosary Rallies to ‘stand against porn and LGBT books in schools and libraries.'” This was in Colorado — even though the group of bigots did not show up, this is worth sharing to get another name and organization of book banners and anti-queer people on your radars.
  • Souhegan Cooperative School Board (NH) is preparing to hear a challenge to Gender Queer.
  • “About 30 books in the school library were found to be inappropriate. Seventh to tenth graders won’t have access to the restricted books. Eleventh and twelfth graders will be able to access the books, but a parent can sign a form if they don’t what their child reading it.” Brandywine schools in Michigan have just given in entirely to the bigots.
  • Let’s Talk About It is under fire at my favorite disaster library, Anchorage Public (see here). The challenger is someone who worked for the mayor, of course.
  • The Roxbury High School librarian (NJ) has filed a lawsuit against the residents of that community who have been painting her reputation as a porn peddler, among other things. I’m paywalled from this story.
  • Thanks for knowing better than the librarians about “porn” in libraries, Tom. This is the Bosler Public Library (PA). Books are Flamer and Let’s Talk About It and my guess is Tom did not actually file a complaint with the tools made available to him. He just wants his 15 minutes in the paper.
  • Mat-Su Schools (AK) have their lengthy list of books pulled from shelves on their website now. You’ll notice themes.
  • You can now watch in real time the books being challenged — and the decisions about them — at Lake Travis Independent School District (TX). Riveting to watch democracy disintegrate before your eyes. Sarcasm aside, this is the exact transparency the parental rights crew beg for and then get mad exists since it showcases just how out of control they are.
  • The last book under fire at Carroll High School (IA) is Tricks, which the committee said should remain on shelves. It’ll go to the board for final approval.
  • Williamson County Schools (TN) voted to delay their vote on removing books from the schools, including Speak, Field Guide to the North American Teenager, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Where The Crawdads Sing.
  • West Morris Regional Schools (NJ) will keep Fun Home in high school English classrooms but it will not be required reading.
  • “Fitzgerald said he’s not sure what specific books some in the community are concerned about and that no one filed any kind of complaint prior to the meeting. Fitzgerald, who emphasized that there are clear adult and children’s sections in the library, said the Salem Community Library [WI] is independent of outside influences and is not interested in prohibiting or censoring materials some may find controversial.” They complain to complain, even though they don’t actually want to “exercise their rights” to actually file the form to do the complaining.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower will remain on shelves in Catawba County (NC) schools, despite pleas for an appeal.
  • Book banners don’t “parent with the government” but want daddy police officers to go talk to the libraries about naughty books (TN).
  • The Louisiana Attorney General — who you may recall created a hit line for librarians and teachers — doesn’t plan on weighing in on the Constitutionality of a new collection policy in Rapides Parish. Nice work doing your job, Jeff.
  • Penn Ridge (PA) schools, in the hours before their board meeting this week, decided to hire a company with little experience in education, but plenty of ties to right-wing nonsense, to help guide curriculum.
  • Seckman High School (MO) just banned several books, including 19 Minutes by Jodi Picoult. Kids have the right to be shot in class, but they do not have the right to read about kids being shot in class.
  • Students protest the fact 52 books are “under review” — with a dozen already being banned — at Plattsmout High School (NE).
  • “The books Porter requested to be reviewed for potential bans cover a variety of themes, including race, LGBTQ+ identities, sexual health, sexual abuse, substance use, self-harm, death, grief and survivor’s guilt.” There are eight books under review in Dover, New Hampshire, and I can’t tell you what they are because the story is paywalled.
  • Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District (CA) has elected not to remove Persepolis from use in classrooms but then decided they get to be the final say on every item used in classrooms. The school board just appointed themselves the educators.
  • “Timothy Salmon, chairman of the curriculum committee, said ‘The Real World’ was investigated after some members of the committee had objected to a previously suggested text. He said some members thought references to the protest group Antifa and the Michael Brown incident were unbalanced, and faulty studies and incorrect facts were presented.” A sociology textbook was rejected in Bernard schools (NJ) because political opinions trump accuracy.
  • Ten more books were reinstated at Beaufort County Schools (SC), though some are now age-restricted.
  • Students in Spring Branch ISD (TX) were going to see a performance of James and the Giant Peach for a field trip. It got canceled. Why? “Drag.”
  • “Collier said if people believe a book requires any trigger warnings, they can put the sticker on the inside of the book. ‘It’s literally, patrons are putting the sticker in the book,’ she said. Collier said the system could be used throughout the library, not just for the children’s and teen areas. ‘Do the lack of standards and vetting concern you?’ Anderson asked. ‘No, because we’re letting people know this is a patron-driven thing,’ Bear said. ‘This is no different than people writing a review (online).'” This is a real proposal in Campbell County Public Libraries (WY). And don’t be tricked: “trigger warnings” here isn’t what you might anticipate. It’s a value judgment call any patron will be able to willy nilly pop on a book.
  • Doesn’t it get exhausting to be so aggrieved? “Greg Francisco said he finds LGBTQ literature accessible to children to be ‘poison,’ during a Douglas County Libraries [CO] board meeting.”