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Ruth Brown dismissed from her position at the Bartlesville Public Library

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 5 months ago

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Ruth Brown (b. July 26, 1891) began working as director of the public library in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, in 1919. Miss Brown was known as a kindly but formidable librarian who loved children but insisted that they whisper in her library. In the 1930s and '40s Brown became increasingly interested in civil rights and racial integration. She joined the Committee on the Practice of Democracy, a progressive group affiliated with the Congress of Racial Equality. She pushed to integrate children's story hour at the library. She associated with African-Americans socially, taking a black friend to her church and eventually even visiting a segregated drugstore lunch counter with two black teachers. These activities were considered unacceptably radical for a public librarian in Bartlesville, promoted by the local Chamber of Commerce as "America's ideal family center."

 

Although Brown's "interracial activities" were what motivated a Bartlesville citizens' group to call for her dismissal, the actual charge against her was for supplying subversive materials at the public library. The Civil Rights Movement was seen by many as a Communist plot to undermine the United States, and the presence of Soviet Russia Today and liberal periodicals like The Nation in the Bartlesville library served as further proof of the connection. Brown was accused of "exposing Bartlesville's children to subversive literature" and stocking the library with reading material that would inspire people to turn against the American government and way of life.

 

Brown was dismissed from her job at the Bartlesville Public Library in 1950. A local group, The Friends of Miss Ruth Brown, tried unsuccessfully to have the library board's decision overturned in court. The ACLU and ALA expressed support for Brown, but both organizations decided that the case was outside their jurisdiction.

 

After the trouble in Bartlesville, Brown worked for several years at a school for African-American children. She later went on to serve as librarian in the Sterling, Colorado, Public Library, where she worked until her retirement in 1961. Brown died in 1975.

 

 

References:

 

Robbins, Louise S. The Dismissal of Miss Ruth Brown. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000.

 

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Comments (2)

Anonymous said

at 10:23 am on Apr 21, 2006

As you probably have gathered, the Ruth Brown saga was pretty hushed up in Bartlesville. When she left to go to Piney Woods Country Life School in Mississippi, and many of the people who supported her were sent elsewhere or fired, for a newcomer to the city it was as if nothing had happened. When the book came out, two kinds of people contacted me--those who had lived in B'ville in the 1950s and didn't know anything about this, and those who wanted to add their view of either the story or B'ville. These ranged from an indexer with Sage, who had been a reporter in B'ville in the 1990's, who said the city hadn't changed, to a woman named Pat Harris, who said she had "escaped" B'ville prior to the Brown episode but was proud to have seen her sister's name signed courageously to a letter protesting Brown's treatment. The most surprising communications have been from descendents of the "bad guys." Joe Christopher, son of E.R., expressed pleasure that I had been able to use his father's papers, which he had deposited at OU's Western History Collection. He told me that the books in the front page photo had been checked out of the Tulsa Public Library.
Preston Gaddis's duaghter-in-law sent me her son's college entrance essay, in which he struggles with the racism of his grandfather.

Nice spin-offs: The Oklahoma Library Association established the Ruth W. Brown Social Responsibilities Award, first given while the book was still being written but after lots of Oklahoma librarians had heard me speak or helped with the research. Nice irony: This past year, the award went to the B'ville Episcopal Church for a literacy program--the same church that didn't want Ruth Brown and her friend Jean attending church.

The Provisions Library at one time told me that they had a n internship position named for Ruth Brown. I can't find it on their web page, but once upon I time I did. http://www.provisionslibrary.org/index.php

Anonymous said

at 10:23 am on Apr 21, 2006

Second installment:

A B'ville Sunday School class bought enough books to discuss in class and to begin a conversation about race.

Two different story tellers, the most recent one named Fran Stallings, has developed stories for children from the book.

The Bartlesville Women's Network has mounted a "Bring Ruth Brown back to the Bartlesville Public Library" campaign. They are raising funds for a bust of Brown and commissioned an American Indian artist from the area to develop the bust and pedestal (I asked that Roosevelt Gracy be pictured and honored in some way on the work). They have already raised about $20,000 at last count. The amount not needed for the art will provide a Bartlesville P.L. employee with library school tuition.

And I still hear from different people from time to time. About a year ago, a retired Methodist minister here in Madison, who had just read the book, asked if I would be able to speak to a group of (I think) once activist campus ministers who would be meeting in Stillwater, OK. Some of them, himself included, had also been attacked for their integration efforts. I was unable to go.

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