At a Florida school board meeting, a 100-year-old woman spoke passionately, invoking her late husband, who died fighting the Nazis during World War II, against book bans. Her speech captured hearts and minds after the video of the encounter went viral online.
On Tuesday, hundreds of parents and grandparents filled the Martin County School Board meeting to demand the return of at least 80 titles to the public schools’ libraries. As a result of a complaint filed by parent Julie Marshall, the books were removed from school media centers due to their sexual content or perceived racist themes.
Schools’ responses to book challenges depend on state and local policies. For example, once a challenge has been filed, media specialists must remove books until the challenge has been resolved. In addition, state law mandates that media specialists ensure that library books are age-appropriate and free of pornography.
Introducing herself to the Martin County School Board, the centenarian who once taught senior citizens computer skills at the local high school made her point quickly.
“I am Grace Linn,” she said. “I am a hundred years young. I’m here to protest our school’s district book-banning policy. 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.”
Eight days before the Normandy invasion, the unit that her husband commanded was bombed and strafed by Nazi planes, the Daily Beast reports. She was seven months pregnant when he was first declared missing in action. Three days after their daughter, Nicci, was born, she received a telegram saying he had died. Linn later received a picture that her husband had brought with him to Europe, but his remains could not be found.
“One of the freedoms that the Nazis crushed was the freedom to read the books they banned,” she said. “They stopped the free press and 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.”
Seeing a handmade quilt being unfurled behind her, Linn explained its significance.
“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. “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.”
Linn did not mince words when it came to why she was there.
“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,” she concluded.
PEN America found that between 2021-2022 there were 565 books banned in Florida schools. Many of these books have LGBTQ+ themes or subjects and have been cracked down on due to the state's notorious "dont' say gay" law.
Watch Grace Linn’s incredible speech below.
Martin County School Board - Regular School Board Meetingwww.youtube.com