The Speaker

In 1977, the American Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee produced the film "The Speaker ... A Film About Freedom." Despite controversy prior to its release, the film was shown at the 1977 Annual Conference in Detroit, Michigan. The ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee, the Association of American Publishers, and co-sponsors, the Black Caucus of the ALA and the Library History Round Table, presented a program, "Speaking about 'The Speaker,'" at the 2014 Annual Conference in Las Vegas. As background for that program, "The Speaker" was screened two times as part of the "Now Showing at ALA" film series. This guide provides background on the film, citations for contemporary reportage and commentary, and citations for reportage and commentary beginning in 1977.

Film Chronology | Council Actions | Contemporary Coverage | Historical Coverage

About the Film

The Speaker ... a Film About Freedom. Chicago: ALA, 1977. 42 minutes. Originally distributed with 32 p. discussion guide. Summary: A dramatization about a high school current events committee which invites a university professor to speak on a theory of genetic inferiority of Afro-Americans. Controversy develops and spills over into the community and parents and community leaders advise the student committee to reconsider. When the Committee refuses, the school board president cancels the speaker. Intended to evoke discussion of constitutional protection of speech on controversial and unpopular topics. (From: OCLC record for original version)

Film Chronology:

1975 June 30: Decision taken by ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) and the Association of American Publishers Freedom to Read Committee (FRC) to produce First Amendment film.

1976 April 29: ALA Executive Board approves IFC proposal and budget contingent on receipt of 200 advance orders.

1976 July 20-22: FRC withdraws; IFC appoints subcommittee to oversee project, and ALA Executive Board authorizes a joint venture with Vision Associates, accepts a grant from Beta Phi Mu, and approves budget, based on 100 advance orders.

1976 August: ALA Executive Director meets with Lee Bobker, Director, of Vision Associates.

1976 October-December: Script development and review.

1977 January: Film shot on location in high school.

1977 January 30: IFC and Bobker meet with ALA Executive Board, which requests the script.

1977 February-April: Vision Associates edits film and prints first edition of 300 copies.

1977 April 26-28: ALA Executive Board previews film and votes to delay release pending review at the Annual Conference in Detroit.

1977 May 3: Decision to delay rescinded.

1977 May-June: IFC members view film and edit discussion guide; advance subscribers receive copy of film.

1977 June 19: Film shown at Annual Conference.

2014 June 30: Program, "Speaking about 'The Speaker,'" at Annual Conference

Council Actions:

Annual Conference 1977: June 17-22, Third Session, p. 133-135, 318-321. Resolution put forth by Ella Gaines Yates to develop a preface for the film and to edit the study guide.

Midwinter Meeting 1978: January 23-26. First Session, p. 2-4. Executive Board reported out its actions and Past President Clara Stanton Jones read the Statement signed by 25 members and endorsed by the Black Caucus of the ALA, p. 25-31. p. 15-16, discussion of ALA imprint; p. 17-18, further discussion on distribution.


News, Procedural (chronological)

American Library Association. "ALA members to discuss controversial film 'The Speaker' at Annual Conference." News release, May, 20, 2014.

OIF Blog. Viewing and speaking about "The Speaker" at ALA Annual Conference, May 22, 2014. [Comments include responses from Diedre Conkling, Patricia Glass Schuman]

OIF Blog. LHRT statement on “Speaking About ‘The Speaker’” co-sponsorship, blog entry by Bernadette A. Lear, 2013-2014 Chair, Library History Round Table, May 27, 2014. [Comments include responses from Betty J. Turock, Patricia Glass Schuman]

Jones, Barbara. "The Speaker Controversy in the 21st Century." American Libraries, 46 (June 2014): 13.

OIF Blog. Zoia Horn and Dorothy Broderick on “The Speaker”, June 3, 2014.

OIF Blog. Black Caucus of the ALA statement on "The Speaker" sponsorship, June 12, 2014. [An Open Letter to the Library Community from BCALA President Jerome Offord, Jr.]

Opinions (Alphabetical, by writer)

Annoyed Librarian. "Controversial Speakers," blog entry, June 2, 2014.

Library Juice. "Commentary on The Speaker -- Al Kagan, Pat Schuman, Mitch Freedman", blog entry by Rory Litwin, June 1, 2014.

Library Juice. "Historical context of The Speaker, to screen at ALA, and now also on the web", blog entry by Rory Litwin, May 20, 2014.

Program Content and Summary

American Libraries: The Scoop. Resurrecting The Speaker, blog entry Phil Morehart and George M. Eberhart, July 1, 2014.


News, Procedural (chronological)

"Color Film on First Amendment Needs $$ Votes of Librarians (PDF)." American Libraries 7 (July/August 1976): 458.

"'Freedom' Film in Final Editing: Debut Set for Annual Conference", American Libraries 8 (April 1977): 205.

"IFC's Film Completed." Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom 26 (May 1977): 67.

Eshelman, William Robert. "ALA Exec Board delays distribution of film." Wilson Library Bulletin 51, (June 1977): 794.

Dwyer, Jim. "'The Speaker': Does It Speak for Librarians?" ALA Social Responsibilities Round Table Newsletter, no. 46 (September 1977): 4-7

"'Speaker' to Go Out Unchanged." Wilson Library Bulletin 52 (September 2, 1977): 16-17.

"The Speaker: Step or Misstep into Filmmaking?" (PDF) American Libraries 8 (July 1977): 371-376. [Conference coverage.]

[Conference coverage.] Wilson Library Bulletin 52 (September 2, 1977): 33-36.

"Debate Nobody Won." Library Journal 102 (August 1977): 1573-1580. [Conference coverage.]

"Speaker Resolutions Approved by the ALA board, Nov. 3, 1977." American Libraries 8, (December 1977): 628.

"Jones Asks for Panel to Review The Speaker." School Library Journal 24 (December 1977): 9-10.

Hirsley, Michael. "Freedom of speech film has librarians quarreling." Chicago Tribune, January 25, 1978, B14.

"Midwinter Meeting … Take 2: The Speaker, Highlights/Spotlight." American Libraries 9 (March 1978): 150-154.

"Council orders normal distribution of 'The Speaker.'." Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom 27 (March 1978): 26.

Krug, Judith F. "Intellectual Freedom." In The ALA Yearbook: A Review of Library Events, 1977, 155-160, esp. 156-157. Chicago: American Library Association, 1978.

Savage, Noël. "LJ News Report, 1978." In The Bowker Annual of Library & Book Trade Information, 24th ed., 1979, 3-28, esp. 27-28. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1979.

News, Reaction (chronological)

"Black Caucus Vetoes 'Patching'." American Libraries 8 (September 1977): 405-406.

"Interracial book council [Council on Interracial Books for Children, Inc.] assails 'The Speaker'". Library Journal 102 (October 1977): 1982.

"Controversy continues over ALA's The Speaker." School Library Journal 24 (November 1977): 10.

LeBarron, Suzanne for the Minnesota Library Association. [letter]. "Words on The Speaker." Wilson Library Bulletin 52, (November 2, 1977): 227.

"ALA's The Speaker Nixed in Minnesota." Library Journal 102 (December 1977): 2382.

"Late News: California LA Votes Against The Speaker." Wilson Library Bulletin 52 (January 1978): 383.

"The Speaker ... a Film About Freedom." Wisconsin Library Bulletin 74 (January 2, 1978): 11.

Gerhardt, Lillian N., Cheatham, Bertha M., & Pollack, Pamela D. “Plowing Through Chicago.” School Library Journal 24 (March 1978): 85-92

"SCLA [South Carolina library association] Reacts to ‘The Speaker’." South Carolina Librarian 22 (April 15, 1978): 27.

Brennan, Marnie. "Reaction is Mixed on Possible Library Film Purchase." Sourdough 15 (May 1978): 11.

"Maryland Student Group Assails The Speaker." Library Journal 103 (June 1978): 1106.

"This Camera Blinked..." ALA Social Responsibilities Round Table Newsletter, no. 49 (June 1978): 2.

"‘The Speaker’ Debate Goes On: Cheers & Jeers." Library Journal 103 (September 1978): 1550-1551.

Elstein, Herman and Joyce Smothers. "Film ‘The Speaker’." New Jersey Libraries 11 (November 1978): 11-15.

White, Jane N. "Intellectual Freedom Committee." Kentucky Library Association Bulletin 42 (December 15, 1978): 34.

"Critics of The Speaker Scored for Censorship." Library Journal 104 (February 1979): 335.

Greenfield, Steve. "'The Speaker:' Controversy Resurfaces." ALA Social Responsibilities Round Table Newsletter, no. 58 (January 1981): 5.

Reports of Showings (chronological)

Madsen, Leza. "'The Speaker': Discussion Which Followed the Screening at the AKLA." Sourdough 15 (May 1978): 9-10.

Jackson, Karen L. "The Speaker Shown at NJLA Fall Conference." New Jersey Libraries 10 (December 1977): 16.

Opinions (Alphabetical, by writer)

"Other Voices, Other Views." American Libraries 8 (October 1977): 504-505. [8 letters by Elaine P. Adams, Richard V. Anglin, Isak Arbus, Carol Barry, Barbara Conroy, Edward G. Holley, George M. Holloway, and Adele M. Jackson]

Berry, John N. "On the Slaying of Dragons." Library Journal 103 (August 1978): 1453.

Berry, John N. "Whimper for Freedom." Library Journal 102 (June 1, 1977): 1227.

Bobker, Lee R. "Gratuitous and Bizarre Comments." Wilson Library Bulletin 51 (June 1977): 801-802.

Broderick, Dorothy M. "Son of Speaker." American Libraries 8 (October 1977): 502-503.

Cohen, David. "Letter: The Speaker." Film Library Quarterly 10 (January 1977): 5.

Fisher, Alice. [letter]. "Re: IFC's New Film." Wilson Library Bulletin 51 (May 1977): 723.

Gould, Martha. "Selection vs. Censorship." Library Journal 103 (March 15, 1978): 598.

Guenther, Lorraine. "Stuck in a Time Warp." Library Journal 103 (June 1978): 1093-1094.

Larsen, Nancy E. [letter]. "'The Speaker' applauded." Wilson Library Bulletin 52 (December 2, 1977): 304.

Jones, Clara Stanton. "Reflections on The Speaker." Wilson Library Bulletin 52 (September 2, 1977): 51-55.

Manley, Will. "Speaking of Dissent." American Libraries 38, no. 9 (October 2007): 88.

Moon, llse B."The Speaker---a Personal View." New Jersey Libraries 10 (September 1977): 4-5.

Nelson, M. G. "Other Voices: Opinion: The Relativistic Universe of Vickie Dunn [The Speaker)." Idaho Librarian 29 (October 1977): 182-183.

"New 'Film About Freedom' Escalates ALA Racism Debate." Interracial Books for Children Bulletin, v. 8, no. 4&5, p. 4-21. Special section includes "'The Speaker': A New Weapon in the Neo-Conservative Arsenal: A CIBC Position Paper;" "'The Speaker': A Discussion Guide," by Beryle Banfield; and "The Selling of 'The Speaker'," [signed B.C., J.R.D., J.E.]

Oboler, E.M. "Pointed Omission." School Library Journal 24 (May 1978): 6.

Oboler, E. M., [letter]. "Reflections on The Speaker." Wilson Library Bulletin 52 (November 2, 1977): 227.

Patt, W. D. "Ruminations of a Scholar." American Libraries 9 (March 1978): 177.

Plotnik, Arthur. "Freedom of Speech for 'The Speaker'." American Libraries 8 (June 1977): 337.

Reimer, Carol Jaeger. "The Speaker: We Are Not Censors, But... .." Sightlines 15 (October 15, 1981): 7-8.

Later Writings

Berman, Sanford. "E.J. and Me: Twenty Years of Correspondence and Agitation," p. 53-88, esp. 71-75. In Josey, E J, and Ismael Abdullahi. E.J. Josey: An Activist Librarian, 53-88, esp. 71-75. Metuchen, N.J: Scarecrow Press, 1992.

Horn, Zoia. Zoia!: Memoirs of Zoia Horn, Battler for People's Right to Know. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co, 1995. Chapter, "Intellectual Freedom Committee," p. 199-226. (Horn was a member, then chair, of the committee.) Link to multiple formats from the Internet Archive.

Jones, Clara Stanton. “E.J. Josey: Librarian for All Seasons” In Josey, E J, and Ismael Abdullahi. E.J. Josey: An Activist Librarian, 1-26, esp. 12-18. Metuchen, N.J: Scarecrow Press, 1992.

Kister, Kenneth F. Eric Moon: The Life and Library Times. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co, 2002. Portions of the chapter, "Moving from Backbench to President," p. 334-357, and passim.

MacCann, Donnarae, ed. Social Responsibility in Librarianship: Essays on Equality. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1989. 7-8.

Preer, Jean L. Library Ethics. Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited, 2008. 146-149. Link to Google Books excerpt.


"Speaker wins a Silver Screen Award." American Libraries 9 (June 1978): 385.

"'The Speaker' wins film award." Wilson Library Bulletin 52 (June 1978): 762.

Last updated: July 21, 2014.