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Segregated Libraries

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on November 28, 2010 at 6:14:07 pm

 Arrested for trying to read a book in a segregated library.  Albany, GA. 1962.


Libraries are a reflection of a community's culture and America's age old wound of discrimination bled into the development of America's library system. Segregated unequal access is the antethisis of the purpose of libraries.   According to an April 1961 ALA Bulletin article, The Freedom to Use Libraries, the ALA clarified" their official position on freedom of access to libraries"(73).  At the ALA midwinter meeting of 1961 an amendment was made to the library bill of rights.  "The right of an individual to the use of a library should not be denied or abridged because of his race, religion national origins, or political views."  Although the ALA officially supported integration, many felt the ALA was too complicit in library segregation.  The ALA bulletin published a portion of a letter from librarian Ruth W Brown to the editor of the of the Library Journal.  "Public libraries must be integrated ... and the ALA and all librarians must take a stand....Public libraries must not compel the Supreme Court to hand down another decision, but must make freedom to read an actual fact in the United States"(73).  Public libraries were sometimes battleground sites in the civil rights movement.  As reported in the June 1961 ALA Bulletin article, The "Study-In" at Jackson, Mississippi, "Nine Negro students of Tougaloo Christian College, near Jackson, Mississipi were fined $100 each and given 30-day suspended sentences on March 29 for participating in Missippi's first "study-in" at the city's main public library which is for whites only.  The nine students had been arrested when they went to library shortly before noon on Monday, March 27, and refused to leave when ordered out by police officers" (75).  "At the city jail the students said they had been unable to obtain materials they needed in libraries open to Negroes and had therefore gone to the main library"(75).  The AlA Bulletin article quoted a local newspaper's editorial column written by staff writer Charls M. Hills in comment to the study-in.  "The Negro who has so long held the guiding and helping hand of the white...may lose that hand as he climbs the back of his benefactor and teacher to shout into halls where he is not welcome"(76).  Libraries were included in the long and much publicized fight in Albany Georgia for equal to public places that was lead by Martin Luther King, Jr.  A February 1963 ALA Bulletin article, No Decision in Albany, states, "On July 17 several small groups of Negroes were reported to have attempted to enter the Carnegie Free Library, on Jackson Street(the main city library), but were refused entrance and left without incident.  Witnesses said they were turned away by library employees.  The Albany Herald said that "the city was remained right side up today and it was reported that Martin Luther King had left town"(77).  "By August 5 it was reported in the Albany Herald that the only remaining segregated facilities under city jurisdiction were the pulic library and public swimming pools"(78).  "Both the main library and Lee Street ranch, which serves the Negro population of the city, were ordered closed on August 11 by the chief of police, and they were to remain closed indefinitely"(78).  "In a unique situation, Booker T. Washington and an associate from the National Negro Business League, Charls Banks, in 1909 requested public funds for Mound bayou, Mississippi, a community entirely composed of African Americans.  Carnegie and Betram immediately approved a $4,000 library grant for the community of about 1, 500 people"(Carnegie 36).  "Carnegie and Bertram never insisted on desegregated libraries or that communities accept and maintain seprarate branches for blacks, but they did attempt to make communities clearly set their own policies, so they could act accordingly"(Carnegie 36).  "Carnegie and Betram tried to compute grant amunts according to the number of people permitted to use them"(Carnegie 32).  This created a complication in southern communities where libraries were segregated.  If the number of likely library users included blacks in the community, carnegie wanted the assurance that blacks would be allowed to use the library.  In 1977 John Hope Franklin addressed the centennial celebration of the American Library Association.  He said that at the time when the ALA was founded the profession had to confront certain issues, "One of these was the need to recognize the all important principle that the true diffusion of knowledge rejects discriminatory practices or practices of exclusion against certain groups and individuals because of race, religion, political, or social views or national origin"(Franklin 12).  "Librarians and, indeed, all others who presume to guard and promote the nation's culture and education betray their trust when they countenance the exclusion of any group from the enjoyment of the opportunity to utilize acommunity's cultural and educational facilities"(Franklin 12).  Franklin criticized Carnegie's compliance with southern library segregation by permitting local whites control.  "This meant that some communities allocated all of the Carnegie money to the library for whites without any provision at all for a library for Negroes.  Meanwhile some other communities allocated most of the Carnegie money for the library for whites, assigning the remainder to a hopelessly inferior library for blacks"(Franklin 12 -13).  "By 1926 some forty-five libraries provided segregated services for African Americans"(Black Libraries 6).  "Overall, in the late 1930's about 21.4 percent of southern African Americans had public library service, about half the white level of 42.7 percent"(Black Libraries 7).  "In the United States and in the South in particular: service was unevenly distributed and as with public schools, rural areas were critically underserved.  The disparities for African Americans were especially large.  In the early 1940's for example, the staff of the Atlanta University Library School reported that while 25.2 percent of the African America population in thirteen southern states ad library services only about 7.7 percent of rural blacks had access, compared with 58.8 percent of African Americans living in urban areas"(Black Libraries 9).  vertical integration libraries integrated but all tables and chairs were removed  "The integration of libraries genrally proceeded more quickly than did the movement to desegregate other southern public institutions...indicating a unique place for libraries within the southern social imagination"(Black Libraries 11).  In the late 1930's African Americans received some form of services at the main library in sixteen southern cities including full full privelges in four or five localities"(Black Libraries 11).  "The ALA's 1963 Access to Libraries research report doccumented ongoing progress in desegregating southern libry service postBrown.  Data indicated at least 271 instances of integrated service, representing approximately 24-26 percent of the main city and town libraries in the 11 states of the Civil War confederacy(Black Libraries 12).  "By way of contast, during the 1963-64 schol year these same eleven states averaged a mere 1.12 percent of their African American student populations attending schools with whites"(Black Libraries 12).  "In some cases limitations were placed on borrowing books and reference materials, on the use of periodical collections, and on where African Americans might sit; some libraries maintained separate restrooms, separate checkout desks, and/or separate entrances"(Black Libraries 12).  "When compared with schools, swimming pools, and public buses, libraries were far more likely to be integrated than other public facilities"(Black Libraries 13). 


Louisville Free Public Library Western Branch, reference desk, 1927.  Caulfield & Shook (photographer)


Louisville Free Public Library Western Branch, children's room, 1936.  Caulfield & Shook (photographer)





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