Make Them Hear You: How Audiobooks Can Make Black History Resources Available

Don't let book bans stop you from hearing Black stories; check out your library's audiobook collection!

Even when hard copies are banned, you can still access digital copies from your public library.

Ever since I was a child, one of my personal heroes has been the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose ninety-fifth birthday we as a nation just celebrated last month. There are many quotes from his sermons that remain popular, but one that remains particularly timeless is, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability but comes through continuous struggle.”

When I was eleven years old in 1994, my sixth-grade teacher, Ms. Garramone, in the rural town of Pennsylvania I grew up in, assigned our class the 1977 Newbery Medal-winning novel Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor that follows a black family living in Mississippi in 1933. In retrospect, this was a pretty bold move, considering the demographic of my grade school and town was mainly white at that time.

I remember reading the story and being shocked when young black children around my age in the book endured physical abuse. It unsettled me, and after one sleepless night returning to school, I asked my teacher why we were given a book to read about such terrible things. “Because when we remember our past mistakes, we can remember not to repeat them,” she said.


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To this day, I am thankful for having the opportunity to read that book at such a young age and for the late great Ms. Garramone, who was brave enough to assign it. It is disheartening to know that twenty years later, this same book is currently banned from required reading lists in public schools in Burbank, California, along with To Kill a Mockingbird, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Cay, and Of Mice and Men, due to complaints from parents about racist epithets, although these titles can still be read individually, according to Marshall Libraries.

Additionally, PEN America reports there are currently 3,362 cases of book bans in the 2022–23 school year, up 33 percent from 2,532 instances in the 2021–22 school year — with one notable title high on the list being The Bluest Eye by famed Black author Toni Morrison. This threatens not only our First Amendment but also suppresses education about integral parts of our history as a nation. According to PEN America:

“These bans removed student access to 1,557 unique book titles, the works of over 1,480 authors, illustrators, and translators. Authors whose books are targeted are most frequently female, people of color, and/or LGBTQ+ individuals.”


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Enter audiobooks to fill in the gap. Many programs, such as and, offer recommendations and free downloads of many banned and challenged titles in audiobook form with a trial membership that can be canceled at any time (you get to keep the books). Sora, a free reading and listening app powered by OverDrive, connects students to their local libraries to borrow books, like Mildred D. Taylor’s masterpiece, in audio and hard copy formats.

Robin Ray Eller is an award-winning audiobook narrator who has lent her vocal prowess to several titles elevating Black voices, such as the AudioFile Magazine Earphones Award-winning collection of short stories How Long ’Til Black Future Month? In a recent conversation, she shared that as a Black narrator, she is honored to bring a human voice to an author’s written words, and it is “especially important that the history of our nation is equally told from the Black perspective.”

“There are so many important audiobooks that give valuable insight to not only the strength and courage of Black Americans in the face of adversity but also our significant contributions to this country,” says Eller. “An audiobook has the ability to make an impact on the listener, as well as perhaps change the point of view of those who aren’t fully cognizant of facts.”


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Eller also says that in her journey to making a career for herself as a storyteller, “I am personally surprised, excited, inspired and sometimes even angry about what I’ve learned about my nation and their treatment of my ancestors. On the other hand, I stand with great pride knowing I am a vehicle for an integral and inerasable chapter of our nation’s history.”

Organizations such as EveryLibrary are actively working to support libraries in continuing to make banned books accessible to the public, and audiobooks work hand-in-hand with allowing voices to — quite literally — be heard.

“The song from Ragtime: The Musical comes to mind — ‘Make Them Hear You,’” says Eller. “The first lyric says, ‘Go out and tell your story, let it echo far and wide’ — audiobooks would be the metaphor for banned books.”





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