Grandmother, 100, who lost husband in World War II fighting Nazis, condemns Florida book bans

100-year-old Grace Linn gives speech at Martin County School Board meeting

A 100-year-old grandmother – who calls herself “a mother of liberty” – has captured the nation’s heart by giving a passionate speech opposing a Florida book ban.

On 21 March, a meeting was held at the Martin County School Board in a bid to discuss the return of at least 80 titles following their removal from public libraries due to a complaint filed by parent Julie Marshall. 

Marshall complained that the books were inappropriate for children due to containing sexual content or perceived racist themes. 

At the meeting several of the speakers requested a committee be created to read the books and reconsider their removal, TCPalm reported

The centenarian, who said she is “100 years young”, introduced herself to the hundreds of attendees as “Grace Linn”, before quickly jumping into a protest of the school’s book-banning policy. 

‘Freedom to read is our essential right and duty of our democracy’

“My husband, Robert Nicoll, was killed in action in World War II at a very young age. He was only 26, defending our democracy, constitution and freedoms. 

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“One of the freedoms that the Nazis crushed was the freedom to read the books that they banned. 

“They stopped the free press, banned and burned books. The freedom to read, which is protected by the first amendment, is our essential right and duty of our democracy, even so it is continually under attack by both the public and private groups, who think they hold the truth.

“In response to the book banning throughout our country and Martin County last year – during the time I was 99 – I have created this quilt,” she said. 

A handmade quilt was revealed behind Linn. 

‘I am a mother of liberty’

She explained the importance of the quilt was “to remind all of us that these few of so many more books that are banned or targeted need to be proudly displayed and protected and read if you choose to”.

“Banning books and burning books are the same. Both are done for the same reason – fear of knowledge. Fear is not freedom. Fear is not liberty. Fear is control. My husband died as a father of freedom,” she said.

“I am a mother of liberty. Banned books need to be proudly displayed and protected from school boards like this. Thank you very much.”

Among the rise in anti-trans and anti-drag bills, Republican lawmakers in the US have taken aim at LGBTQ+ literature in schools in recent months.

According to a report released last year, almost half of books banned in US schools in the past year contained LGBTQ+ themes or characters. 

The Florida Freedom to Read Project found more than 50 books were banned in the Clay County school district in Florida last week (24 March), many of which are written by LGBTQ+ authors or discuss sexuality or gender identity.

The list of banned books includes the first three volumes of Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper, as well as her 2016 novel Radio Silence, which features a number of queer characters.

Books banned under guise of ‘concern for children’

Responding to the Heartstopper ban, Alice Oseman decried the growing number of book bans as thinly-veiled homophobia.

“Racism, homophobia and transphobia are thriving under the guise of ‘concern for children’. This is not just a US issue either,” Oseman warned. “We’re seeing the exact same ‘concern’ here in the UK.”

The Florida Freedom to Read Project found that a total of 355 books have now been removed from the school district since July 2022.

Thanks to a report by PEN America, we know that 2,532 instances of individual book bans had taken place across the US between July 2021 and July 2022, with Maia Kobabe’s memoir Gender Queer, about growing up as non-binary and asexual, reported as the most-banned book. 

Several libraries in the US have been targeted with hate for stocking LGBTQ+ books. 

PinkNews has contacted Martin County School Board for comment.

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