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Virginia Democrats trolled GOP governor candidate Glenn Youngkin by passing out copies of Toni Morrison's 'Beloved' at a rally

Oct 27, 2021, 22:28 IST
Business Insider
President Joe Biden, right, reacts after speaking at a rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021, in Arlington, Va. McAuliffe will face Republican Glenn Youngkin in the November election. Alex Brandon/AP
  • Virginia Democrats handed out copies of Toni Morrison's "Beloved" at a campaign rally.
  • The GOP gubernatorial candidate's campaign made an ad featuring a woman who once lobbied to have the book removed from her son's school.

Virginia Democrats handed out copies of the late award-winning novelist Toni Morrison's "Beloved" to attendees at a Tuesday campaign rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe after his GOP opponent Glenn Youngkin produced a campaign ad featuring a parent who lobbied to remove the book from her son's high school's curriculum.

McAuliffe slammed Youngkin over the recent ad, telling the crowd on Tuesday night that the Republican candidate "is promoting banning books by one of America's most prominent Black authors."

"Just the fact that he's even discussing this brings shame here to the commonwealth of Virginia," McAuliffe added. "He's ending his campaign the way he started it with divisive dog whistles."

President Joe Biden campaigned alongside McAuliffe at the Tuesday night rally in Arlington, Virginia, a week before McAuliffe faces Youngkin in the November 2 gubernatorial election.

During his speech, Biden also attacked the ad, claiming that Youngkin is "banning books written by Pulitzer Prize- and Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison."


"Let's be clear: This is a guy who doesn't know much about anything," Biden continued.

The Youngkin campaign ad featured Laura Murphy, identified as a Fairfax County mother.

"When my son showed me his reading assignment, my heart sunk," she said. "It was some of the most explicit material you can imagine. I met with lawmakers. They couldn't believe what I was showing them. Their faces turned bright red with embarrassment."

Murphy didn't mention, however, that her son was a high school senior in Advanced Placement English, a college-level class, at the time and the book in question was Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1987 novel "Beloved," a vivid story that captures the horrifying legacy of slavery in America, including descriptions of murder, rape, and bestiality.

In a 2013 Washington Post article, Murphy said she wasn't "some crazy book burner," but wanted parents to have more advance notice and control over their children's reading assignments.


She lobbied to have the book removed from the AP English curriculum so the school board could implement new policies requiring parents to be notified if a teacher wanted to assign sexually explicit reading material so their children could have a chance to opt-out ahead of time.

"It was disgusting and gross," her son Blake Murphy, then a freshman in college, told The Post about the book in 2013. "It was hard for me to handle. I gave up on it."

After the school board declined to take up Murphy's challenge to the book, she then took her class to the state legislature and secured bipartisan support for two bills, one of which was dubbed the "Beloved bill," that would have given parents advance notification and the option to opt-out of sexually explicit books. Then-governor McAuliffe vetoed both measures in 2016 and 2017.

Education has emerged as a major campaign issue in the Virginia governor's race and other downballot elections, with Youngkin heavily campaigning on giving parents more say on what their children learn in school, especially on topics involving race, in addition to opposing masking and vaccine mandates in schools.

While Youngkin himself did not appear in the advertisement and has not personally endorsed banning books from schools, Democrats have seized on his campaign elevating Murphy to accuse Youngkin of embracing "racist dog whistles" and "book banning" in the final days of the campaign.


"Glenn Youngkin is ending his campaign the way he started it: with a fever pitch of divisive right-wing conspiracy theories," Virginia Democratic Party spokesman Manuel Bonder said about the ad. "From peddling Trump's dangerous election lies to embracing a racist book banning agenda, Youngkin has made it clear he'll go to any lengths to drag Virginia backwards."

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