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Public Libraries and Segrigation

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 6 months ago

 

In light of books such as The Dismissal of Miss Ruth Brown: Civil Rights, Censorship, and the American Library] by Louise Robbins, any library history Wiki would be incomplete without a discussion of libraries and segregation. The book itself is an example of the ways in which the lines between the opponents of segregation and those who supported it are in some respects blurry. Even as we may imagine ourselves to be accepting and welcoming of those who are different from us, still there are efforts both subtle and overt that betray our better angels.

Librarians such as John Hope Franklin, recall the obstacles of discrimination during the era of Jim Crow. During his time at the historically black Hampton Institute, Franklin speaks of ironic privilege given in an effort to enforce his second class status under the social mores of the time. In performing his work at the North Carolina State Archives he was given a key to the manuscripts room and his own private space so that no white person would have to work with or assist him. No other white person had a key or their own research space, which set him apart as privileged to the outrage of his fellow researchers.

 

In more modern times, the City of Houston, Texas public library system was quietly desegregated in 1953, before the Brown. V. Board of Education ruling occurred. Cheryl Malone, writing in Library Trends tells of the unique courage of librarians that made this possible.

In her review of William Henry Kellar’s Make Haste Slowly: Moderates,Conservatives, and School Desegregation in Houston (1999) she recalls the era and the events that shapes it. She juxtaposes the peaceful desegregation of the library system with a mention of George Wallace who called out the National Guard to prevent the integration of Alabama public schools.

However, in the case of Texas, unlike Alabama, it did not take a federalized National Guard to desegregate the libraries. Rather it was product of an educated, empowered black middle class working with the black press of the day. Working in tandem they pressured the media-attention averse business community into acceptance. During this time, pressure to integrate was rising, and those who did not integrate faced the scornful light of the newspaper photographers and television cameras.

          Just as Rosa Parks bus event did not take place in a vacuum, so too did events leading up to the actual desegregation provide for an inevitable momentum. Malone traces the careful manner in which legal case history was used to build a foundational framework for the integration of the libraries. This precise grounding in legal precedents provided an under girding of legal legitimacy that made calm progress possible, if only on a small scale.

Under the plan, adults would have access to meeting rooms, reference and reading materials. Children, would still be served at a segregated location for fear of race-mixing amongst little ones due to the “social component” of children’s programming.

Ultimately it was not the force of law but rather the force of economics that lead to the integration of the library. The so-called “Carnegie Colored Branch” was in dire need of maintenance. The cost for upkeep was greater than the motivation to maintain separate but equal facilities. In July of 1961 The Colored branch” closed for the last time. Upon its closure, library director Harriet Dickenson wrote to then mayor Lewis Cutreer with a palpable sense of regret in her words “With the closing of the Colored Carnegie Branch,, the library system is for all practical purposes integrated."'

There is an irony in her announcement, given that it was Dickenson, who had earlier dragged her feet in order to see that nothing regarding integration be accomplished.

          During this time, libraries were closing rather than integrating. So slow was the pace of integration at the Danville Public Library in Virginia  that the process started with a re-opening (after court ordered closing due to discriminatory practices) sans chairs. Post-Brown V. Board of Education the sit-in becomes the regular form of protest amongst patrons of merchants and libraries alike. Such protest actions were taken in 1960 and 1962 in Petersberg, Virginia* and Albany, Georgia respectively.

            However in Albany Georgia, the library was integrated and reopened after an outcry from over a thousand white patrons upset at its closure. During this time, actions by groups such as the Freedom Riders worked to integrate Inter-State bus routes. 1964 saw librarians in Mississippi unite to form Freedom Libraries.

            1966 would see Brown v.s Louisiana , which according to the ALA is the only case regarding libraries and equal access in terms of segregation to be settled by the Supreme Court.

 

 

* Petersberg VA would be the site of the first sit in at a library according to the A.L.A.

 

           Works referenced for this wiki: The ALA Timeline in Library Development for African Americans      

                                                            http://www.ala.org/ala/alonline/selectedarticles/aframtimeline.cfm

 

                                                                               Peterson, Lorna

 

                                                            Mirror on our Library: A Southern Historian's 

                                                            Life Reflects American Racism Through Its

                                                           Segregated Institutions

                                                           Library Quarterly, vol. 78, no. 1, pp. 123–127                  

                                                           Retrieved from http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdf/10.1086/523915

 

 

 

                                                          Malone, Cheryl Knott, 1954-

Unannounced and Unexpected: The Desegregation of Houston Public Library in the Early 1950s

Library Trends - Volume 55, Number 3, Winter 2007, pp. 665-674

Retrieved from muse.jhu.edu/journals/library_trends/v055/55.3malone.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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