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60 Minutes’ report focuses on Beaufort SC school book ban | Beaufort County

The battle between school officials and librarians and people demanding that certain books be pulled from public schools is playing out across the nation and in many school districts across South Carolina.

The CBS program “60 Minutes” on March 3 focused on the happenings in a single school district — the one in Beaufort County in S.C.’s Lowcountry. There were more than 3,000 books banned in schools across the country, an increase of more than 1,000 over the year before, veteran journalist Scott Pelley said. His report on “60 Minutes” focused on the 97 banned in Beaufort County, and the role conservative group Moms for Liberty is playing in the process.

As The Post and Courier first reported in November 2022, the effort in Beaufort County started with two complaints about nearly 100 books filed by Mike Covert, a Bluffton businessman and former County Council member, and Ivie Szalai, a Seabrook resident with a child in the Beaufort County School District.

From The Post and Courier:

Szalai asserted that the books include passages inappropriate for children and even teenagers.

“I know that many of the books in question may have extremely helpful material for many students, but that does not negate the fact that many of them contain explicit sexuality, even some pornographic, X-rated scenes,” Szalai recently told the school board.

Late in October, Superintendent Frank Rodriguez opted to take the books out of circulation until they can be evaluated by a library materials review committee.

A few days later, parents showed up at a school board meeting to protest the decision.

“60 Minutes” reported that Rodriguez removed the books out of a fear of violence following a string of threats and vitriolic messages.

From The Post and Courier:

Covert said he read all 97 books that comprise his list in about six weeks and didn’t find much educational value in them.

“It’s some of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Covert read passages that he thought denigrated women and glorified rape, child abuse and human trafficking. Other books, like Jodi Picoult’s “Nineteen Minutes,” about a school shooting, read to him like a how-to guide.

John A. Carlos II (copy)

Pete Cooper and the other members of the Diversity Awareness Youth Literacy Organization at Beaufort High School speak at a conference on the rise of censorship held in Columbia in February 2023.

To fight back against the book ban, a group of Beaufort County public school students banded together. The students were part of the Diversity Awareness Youth Literacy Organization, The Post and Courier previously reported. The group started as an after-school club at Beaufort High in 2020.

From a Post and Courier report in March 2023:

It was a book club first. The teens pick works written by authors from diverse backgrounds or books with characters from underrepresented groups. They’re currently reading Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” chosen after they saw it on the list of challenged books.

The teens like reading about people who are different from themselves. They see it as a way to broaden their understanding of life beyond Beaufort County, which is 79 percent White by the latest census count and which voted for former President Donald Trump by 55 percent in 2020.

“You’re in a small town and you don’t see a lot of people who aren’t sort of absorbed in the homogeneity of it,” said Pete Cooper, a senior at Beaufort Academy who joined last fall. “These books, these stories, are the closest we can get to understanding someone else’s inner life.”

Doug Emhoff (copy)

Melinda Henrickson, chairwoman of Families Against Book Bans, presents a shirt to Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, on Jan. 11, 2024, in Beaufort.

A group of parents and county residents also banded together to work with school librarians to read and review all 97 books that had been removed.

Following the effort, the group returned 92 books to school shelves, “60 Minutes” reported.

One of those books was “The Fixer,” a 1966 novel about antisemitism by Bernard Malamud. It won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Pelley ended his report by focusing on an excerpt from the book.

“There are no wrong books,” Malamud wrote as dialogue for a main character. “What’s wrong is the fear of them.”

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