Ruby Bridges and the Never-Ending Battle for Free Speech in America

The battle over censorship in America rages on as conservative groups continue their sweeping campaign to ban books, films, and other media that dare to expose society’s uncomfortable aspects.

Recently, Florida’s Pinellas County school district prohibited the screening of “Ruby Bridges,” a film that tells the powerful story of the first Black student to integrate a New Orleans elementary school. Amidst a raging American culture war, conservative factions have targeted drag queen story hours, libraries, and film festivals nationwide.

Florida has been on the front lines of those cultural conflicts in recent months, as Governor Ron DeSantis has waded into the deep waters to bolster his conservative credentials in the runup to the US Presidential election.

William Johnson, left, holds a sign in support of the Drag Queen Story Hour, while Deb Maxwell holds a sign in protest behind him at Community Cafe. [ALLIE GOULDING | Times]

Yet critics on the cultural left argue that the true motive behind such bans is to suppress the inconvenient realities of American history. “Ruby Bridges” serves as a poignant reminder of the racism Black Americans have faced, a narrative some would rather not confront. Instead of engaging in meaningful dialogue, these groups now aim to silence the storytellers themselves.

This is hardly a new phenomenon. Over the decades, literary works like “The Catcher in the Rye” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” have faced bans for their controversial content. Massive comic book bonfires were held in the 1950s, while films like “Schindler’s List” and “The Color Purple” were banned in the 1980s and 1990s for their violent or explicit nature.

Censorship advocates often argue that such material is inappropriate for specific audiences or contains offensive content. However, the underlying motive frequently lies in concealing the discomforting truths about American history and society. Such appears to have been the case in Florida. The protest filed against the use of the film was done so on the grounds that it was inappropriate for a particular grade level and would’ve been better suited for older children. The ready counter to that point is that the film’s subject was the same age as the children to whom the film was shown.

This form of censorship seeks to stifle those who expose injustice, ultimately threatening our freedom of expression and the pursuit of knowledge.

Consider the censorship of comics beginning in the 1950s. What had begun as a somewhat subversive artform that primarily spoke to the interests of the working class became a sanitized product for the new middle class America.


We must tirelessly resist censorship, defend free speech, and amplify the stories of those who have been silenced. Rather than seek to avoid discussion of the troubling periods of American history, we should work to engender open and serious conversations about them. There is so much to be gained by developing a deeper understanding of the societal and cultural factors which led people to condone behavior we would now consider abominable.

Or, in the immortal words of Sean Connery as Dr. Henry Jones, Sr.:

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