Cameron Williams, a former staffer at Chattanooga Public Library and a local Black Lives Matter activist, has been fired from his library job three months after being accused of “improperly” burning books written by Donald Trump and Ann Coulter.
In December, as the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported, Williams posted a video to his Instagram page where he appeared to spray copies of Trump’s Crippled America and Coulter’s How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must): The World According to Ann Coulter with lighter fluid and set them on fire, as the Trump protest song “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)” played in the background. Two days later, the library placed Williams on temporary administrative leave; and on February 10, Williams was fired for “improperly removing items from the Library’s collections.”
Was Williams’s removal of the “items” actually improper according to library policy? Williams has told the Washington Post that his actions were within the purview of his library job, as one of his responsibilities was to comb through the library shelves and remove books that were outdated, untruthful, or in poor physical condition. Williams says his boss asked him to comb the political section and take down titles that contained misinformation or where views had changed, as well as books more than 10 years old. How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must) was published in 2004, more than 10 years ago. A case can also be made for Crippled America as “outdated,” as it was published in 2015 before Trump was elected and was essentially a book of campaign promises; it was republished as Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America in 2016.
This is to say nothing of potential misinformation or offense in the books’ text. According to Williams, his boss specifically mentioned Williams’ activist background when asking him to complete this task.
Library spokesperson Christine Sacco told the Chattanooga Times Free Press back in December that books are flagged for removal based on “publication date, circulation date, and physical condition,” but refused to answer more specific questions about the process from the Washington Post.
Williams also says that before these events unfolded, employees had been allowed to take home books that were flagged for removal. Said Williams to the Washington Post, “Time after time, we’ve used old books for art projects. Time after time, employees have been encouraged to take books [that have been taken off the shelves]. This is a BS rule that doesn’t exist. They’re just using it to persecute me.”
An unnamed library spokesperson to the Washington Post reasserted that Williams’ actions were against library policy and the library’s decision to fire Williams was apolitical. Said the spokesperson, “It is our job to ensure that all walks of life have access to information without judgment or prejudice . . . we believe that censorship has no place in a library.”
The Washington Post reported that before Williams’s firing, he was the only Black man on a staff of around eighty people.