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A Black Catholic literary classic has become a flashpoint in Virginia's governor race. But why?

Toni Morrison, who died in 2019, is best known for her novel "Beloved", released in 1987. Today, the best-selling work is under attack in Old Dominion.

The Virginia gubernatorial election is scheduled for November 2nd, and a new flashpoint in the campaign is the novel “Beloved” by the late Toni Morrison—a Black Catholic.

Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin recently ran a campaign ad featuring Laura Murphy describing her disgust at her son being exposed to “Beloved” in 2012. She never mentions the book title, but does describe it as “some of the most explicit material you can imagine.”

She also fails to mention that the book was assigned as part of her then 17-year-old son’s senior year AP English class, meant to prepare students for an examination that grants college credit(s).

“It was disgusting and gross,” Blake Murphy said in 2013.

“It was hard for me to handle. I gave up on it.”

In the ad, Murphy describes her pursuit to make sure no child would have to read “Beloved” in Virginia ever again, and how those efforts culminated in the passage of Virginia House Bill 516, nicknamed the “Beloved bill” in March 2016.

It would have required notice to parents of any assigned books with “sexually explicit content,” with the possibility of opting out.

Then-governor and current Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe vetoed the bill. (This fact is delivered by Murphy with visuals of literal hand-wringing.)

McAuliffe also vetoed a reintroduced version of the bill in 2017.

Not mentioned by Murphy is that, according to the Washington Post, at the time her son was in school, students themselves could “opt out of books assigned in class that they [found] uncomfortable to read”.

The McAuliffe campaign handed out copies of “Beloved” at a campaign event this past Tuesday, along with copies of Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man”. The books also appear to have included a bookmark stating that “Glenn Youngskin will ban books in Virginia schools.”

Of note is that McAuliffe is a lifelong Catholic and was educated in Catholic institutions up through law school. It is unclear, however, whether this informed his decisions to hand out the books or to veto the bills to restrict access to “Beloved”.

There appears to have been little to no reaction from Catholic bishops who recently defended statues of controversial saints Junipero Serra and Damien of Molokai, nor from Catholic scholars who defended Flannery O’Connor against accusations of racism during the same period.

Gunnar Gundersen is an attorney in Newport Beach, CA. He serves in his parish council and choir, is a published essayist, and regularly lectures on natural law and the American Founding. He is also the first Ordinariate member of the Knights of Peter Claver. Follow him on Twitter at @GBGundersen.

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