A famous novel on slavery at the center of a controversy in a local American election

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Decades after its publication, a poignant slavery novel written by African-American Toni Morrison, “Beloved”, found itself this week at the heart of a controversy over her teaching during the election campaign. of the next governor of Virginia, in the eastern United States.

Glenn Youngkin, the Republican candidate in this election seen as a test for President Joe Biden, highlighted a mother, Laura Murphy, in a recent advertisement. In 2013, she launched a campaign to ban classrooms in her county “Beloved”, some violent passages she said had given her high school son nightmares.

This classic of American literature, released in 1987 and awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize, is based on a true story. It tells the story of a former slave who chooses to kill her child to avoid him in turn suffering the atrocities of slavery.

Laura Murphy’s fight led to a Republican bill allowing parents to prevent their children from studying books in school that contained sexually explicit material.

As this mother tells it in Glenn Youngkin’s advertisement – which does not mention the name of the book at the origin of this project – the text, voted twice by the General Assembly of Virginia, with a Republican majority, had been each time blocked by Democrat Terry McAuliffe, governor of the state from 2014 to 2018, and again candidate for this post.

The law “gave parents a voice – the ability to choose an alternative for my children,” says Laura Murphy. Terry McAuliffe “doesn’t think parents should have a say” in the education of their children, she adds.

The Democratic candidate, backed by party stars like Joe Biden and Barack Obama, responded with an advertisement that recalls that Toni Morrison was the first African-American to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.

Barack Obama presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to novelist Toni Morrison in Washington on May 29, 2012 MANDEL NGAN AFP

In a tweet accompanying this video, on Thursday, Terry McAuliffe accused his competitor of wanting to “bring Donald Trump’s politics of hatred and division” into classrooms.

“Glenn Youngkin encourages the banning of the book by one of America’s best-known black authors,” he said at a meeting on Tuesday.

The Republican, who recalled that the novelist was not mentioned in her advertisement, made education a central theme of his campaign.

The conservatives have entered the battlefield of school curricula, for example fiercely fighting the teaching of “critical race theory”, a school of thought that analyzes racism as a system rather than at the level of individual prejudices.

Virginia’s poll, which will take place on Tuesday, is a dress rehearsal a year before the mid-term legislative elections. A few days before the deadline, the two candidates are neck and neck.

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A famous novel on slavery at the center of a controversy in a local American election