Tennessee public library fires employee for burning books by Trump and Coulter
First posted July 8, 2021 11:17pm EDT
Last updated July 8, 2021 11:17pm EDT
All Associated Themes:
- Artistic Expression
- Professional Consequences
A part-time library specialist at the Chattanooga Public Library was fired in February 2021, after posting a video on his Instagram of himself burning library copies of books authored by former President Donald Trump and conservative commentator Ann Coulter.
Cameron “C-Grimey” Williams is a musician and racial justice activist based in Chattanooga; in 2020, following the May 25 murder of George Floyd, he organized several demonstrations against police brutality. Williams worked part time at the downtown branch of the Chattanooga Public Library, according to The Washington Post.
In December 2020, Williams was tasked with weeding out books from the library’s political science section that were “damaged, outdated, or harmful,” as he told the Post. He said his boss had cited his activist background as reason for him to manage that particular duty.
While sorting the books, Williams removed copies of Ann Coulter’s How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must) and Donald Trump’s Crippled America. Later that month, he posted a video on Instagram of his spraying the Coulter and Trump books with lighter fluid and burning them in an outdoor fire as the anti-Trump song “FDT” played in the background, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
The video soon caught the attention of the library, which placed him on paid administrative leave. In February 2021, he was fired after an investigation into the incident.
“The City of Chattanooga Human Resources Department completed its investigation of an allegation that books were removed from the Chattanooga Public Library’s Main Branch on Dec. 1, 2020,” the library wrote in a public statement. “The investigation determined that [Williams] violated City and Library policies by improperly removing items from the Library’s collections.”
Williams defends his actions and says his firing was political
Williams maintained he had acted within the library’s guidelines. He said Coulter’s book was published in 2004, fitting the bill for removal based on its age, and he believed that Trump’s book, while published in 2015, raised red flags following the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the Post reported. Additionally, he said that other employees had also taken books that had been removed from the library’s collection and used them for art projects.
Williams also said that he and his lawyer had tried to work out a deal in which he would return other books he had taken and compensate the library for those that “could not be returned,” an offer he says was rebuffed, the Free Press reported.
“That wasn’t good enough, which leads me to believe that this had nothing to do with the books being missed, and had to do with whatever reason they were looking for to get rid of me,” Williams told the Free Press. “I really believe that this was political. It’s definitely a perpetuation of white supremacy. None of this would have never ever, ever been a problem if someone who doesn’t believe in me speaking for equality for Black people wouldn’t have reported it.”
He also told local Chattanooga TV station ABC 9 that he planned on appealing his termination from the library.
Library defends firing Williams
The Chattanooga Public Library maintains that its decision to fire Williams was justified. In December 2020, amid the initial investigation into his actions, library spokesperson Christine Sacco said that library policy did not allow for removal of books based on personal feelings, because doing so would be a form of censorship.
“It’s our job to ensure that all walks of life have access to information without judgment or prejudice,” Sacco said. “Whether these materials were actually destroyed in a fire or even if they were just removed, that does go against our policy. Because at the end of the day, we believe that censorship has no place in a library.”
In February 2021, following Williams’s firing, Library Executive Director Corinne Hill said in a statement that the city of Chattanooga had policies to “protect the public’s interest,” the Free Press reported.