(The Hill) — Two Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists were restricted from reading from their book or discussing systemic racism at a high school event in Tennessee last month.
Journalists Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa told NBC News that two days before they were set to speak at Whitehaven High School, they were informed they were not allowed to read from their acclaimed book, “His Name Is George Floyd,” and that the book would not be available at the event.
The book, a biography about Floyd and the systemic racism that led to his murder by a former Minneapolis police officer, sparking a global movement against police brutality, won the 2023 Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction and was recognized by several other organizations and awards.
But Tennessee is one of several states to have passed legislation restricting what and how students can be taught about race. Olorunnipa and Samuels, reporters for the Washington Post, said they believe this law is why event organizers told them they could not delve too deeply into the book, despite speaking to a majority Black student body.
“It was really disappointing to hear that our speech was going to be limited,” Olorunnipa told NBC News. “Not only for us, but for the students whose access to knowledge is going to shape their journey in this world and in this country.”
Memphis-Shelby County Schools spokeswoman Cathryn Stout attributed the issue to a miscommunication.
Stout told NBC News that Memphis-Shelby County Schools never told the two Black journalists they weren’t allowed to read from their book or discuss certain topics.
“Memphis-Shelby County Schools did not send any messaging that said the authors could not read an excerpt from the book. Memphis-Shelby County Schools also did not send any messaging that said the authors could not discuss systematic racism or topics related to the death of George Floyd,” Stout said.
Stout said the district was “saddened and disappointed” to learn the reporters “were given misinformation that was said to have come from us.”
However, she added, there was an issue when it came to providing the book to the students. Because of state and district regulations, Stout explained, there would need to be a review before the school could distribute the title.
Still, Samuels said he thought it was a “great disservice that they’re giving these students who deserve better.”
“I thought about my personal disappointment and feelings of naïveté that despite all the work Tolu and I had done to make sure the book would be written in a way that was accessible to them, a larger system decided that they were going to take it away,” Samuels said.
Stout said the district instead provided alternatives for distributing the book to students. Samuels and Olorunnipa will now make the books available to students through a local nonprofit off school property.