Zoia Horn and Dorothy Broderick on “The Speaker”

Intellectual Freedom Committee, Intellectual Freedom Issues, Midwinter Meeting/Annual Conference, Office for Intellectual Freedom

Continuing our look at the 1977 film The Speaker and the controversy surrounding it, we call your attention to opinions from two key players: Dorothy Broderick and Zoia Horn.  The two women, both fierce and celebrated defenders of “intellectual freedom” as a concept, had remarkably disparate views on the film, its message, and its utility.

Broderick, the legendary librarian, educator, and co-founder of VOYA Magazine, wrote a memorable opinion piece, “Son of Speaker,” for the October 1977 American Libraries.  The article provides good background on some of the issues that helped create the context for the controversy around the film, and an explanation for her advocacy in favor of it. A key quote from her:

We cannot, as an Association devoted to the dissemination of all ideas, be so unsophisticated as to equate defending a racist’s right to speak with being a racist.  It is the right to be heard that is all important, and not the quality of the ideas.  We cannot allow ourselves to lose sight of the fact that suppression of one unpopular opinion opens the door to suppression of all unpopular opinions. Nor can we afford to forget that every major improvement in society–including the civil rights movement–began as an unpopular minority opinion.  Most of all, out of total self-interest, we should remember that each voice silenced contributes to the possibility of our own voices being silenced.

AL printed this along with eight other compelling letters under the heading “Other Voices, Other Views.”  Thanks to the ALA Library for posting these pages and to AL for permission to do so.

On the other side: Zoia Horn, 1977-1978 Intellectual Freedom Committee chair (whom Judith Krug once referred to as “the first librarian who spent time in jail for a value of our profession”).  Zoia’s daughter, Catherine Marrion, wrote to ALA upon hearing of “Speaking about The Speaker” and asked that we bring attention to her mother’s account of the matter, as recorded in her 1995 autobiography, Zoia!  Ms. Marrion agreed to let us quote her email:

My mother is 96 years old and in failing health so will not be able to attend, but she would be happy for you to … link to her book on openlibrary.org and specifically to the chapter titled “Intellectual Freedom Committee (pages 199 -224), which deals almost exclusively with the making of “The Speaker” and the subsequent fallout. …

Zoia was a new member of the Intellectual Freedom Committee in 1976 and she describes with considerable dismay the lack of consultation in the creation of the film. Her account of this event sources committee minutes, meeting notes, correspondence and recollection of conversations with committee members and others.

My mother’s career was devoted in large measure to issues of intellectual freedom and the right to know. In 1970 she went to jail rather than compromise these principles. The California Library Association has an annual Intellectual Freedom Award in her honour, and she has many other awards. Zoia’s opposition to “The Speaker” and to the undemocratic and non-consultative way in which it was produced is a piece of my mother’s history, but of course it is a part of American library history…

We strongly encourage you to check out both of these great women’s perspectives, and to add your own in the blog comments or elsewhere.

For the full rundown of available resources on The Speaker, see the ALA Library pathfinder.


  • There is more to this story. Here is what Zoia wrote about Dorothy’s statement just after the first showing of the film at the large 1977 Membership Meeting (p. 215 of her book):

    People quickly lined up at the microphones for their say. The first, Dorothy Broderick, surprised many librarians when she supported the film because she “could teach an entire semester on racism/sexism awareness with it,” despite the film’s ostensible focus on the First Amendment. Broderick had in 1971 written, “As long as it is black people being offended we invoke intellectual freedom and tell blacks that bigots have rights too.” Sitting in the audience, flinching at every mention of the IFC’s as sponsor of the film, I remembered other remarks in Dorothy’s letters to me and in other of her always stimulating articles. Just in the previous year she had passionately defended the “Racism and Sexism Awareness resolution” that had been adopted by the ALA Council. In an article in the PLA Bulletin (November 1976) she had said, “Whatever intellectual freedom means, it does not include our right to ruin other people’s lives” or “convey misinformation.” I wondered at the 180 degree turn she seemed to have taken.

    Al Kagan
    SRRT Councilor

    African Studies Bibliographer and Professor of Library Administration Emeritus
    University of Illinois Urbana/Champaign

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