By focusing on the desegregation of public libraries in specific locations like Memphis, Tennessee; Greenville, South Carolina; Petersburg and Danville, Virginia; and the states of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Louisiana, we recognize that we are telling only part of a much larger story. We hope our book will not only encourage others to undertake the histories of the desegregation of southern public libraries on a state-by-state basis, but also to initiate a conversation about what impacts racially segregated neighborhoods in the rest of the country have meant for public library services across the nation.
While our research has been enriched by a massive body of literature addressing the Civil Rights Era, most of that literature has largely overlooked events surrounding the desegregation of public libraries. A few notable exceptions stand out. For Alabama, he demonstrates how Jim Crow affected library services from the late 19 th century to the end of the Civil Rights Era. Rarely did Alabama librarians openly oppose segregation; Graham discusses the few who did and the consequences they suffered. Sometimes violence erupted in the wake of public library protests, as in Anniston in She shows how the evolution toward integrated services experienced fits and starts in the first half of the 20 th century, when white middle-class women were in the forefront of establishing and maintaining segregated libraries.
Finally, she clearly shows that African Americans then established their own separate library spaces. Forgotten Readers: Recovering the Lost History of African American Literary Societies Duke University Press, : Elizabeth McHenry documents the troubled journey African Americans were forced to take in the 19 th century to expand their access to print in an ever-resistant white world. She carefully documents how free upper and middle class blacks north of the Mason-Dixon line used their reading practices and literary conversation to craft their civic identities and challenge white political and literary cultures.
By reading her book, one better understands the motivations of those who protested Jim Crow libraries generations later. Wiegand delves into the heart of why Americans have loved their public libraries for the past years by listening to the voices of everyday patrons who used them. At the time Blalock assumed her official role as the director, Selma was being informally, but influentially, run by the White Citizens' Council.
Blalock, upon becoming library director, immediately pushed for desegregation of the library with the library board. This was a difficult task, especially during the political climate of the s, but Blalock was persistent. She personally visited each board member in order to try to convince them that desegregation was inevitable. Blalock had used recent integration orders by the federal government in Montgomery and protests in Birmingham as examples of trouble the people of Selma could expect. She argued that Selma could take control of its own integration process rather than have outsiders do it for them.
By May , Blalock had become more urgent in her appeals. The desegregation plan that was developed for the Selma-Dallas County Library was not ideal to Blalock, but it did accomplish the goal she so eagerly sought. It was decided that the library would remain closed for one week, from May 13 to May Following that period, it would reopen using "vertical integration" techniques; all of the chairs in the library would be removed in order to keep black and white patrons from sitting together.
In addition, the library's desegregation would not be publicly announced and all library card applicants would be required to provide two references, a negligible impediment in the mind of Blalock. On May 20, , the library reopened, fully desegregated, without much fanfare. Library visitors who found the lack of chairs unusual were told that the chairs were in the basement being stored temporarily. Black patrons, unaware of the recent change, were slow to use the library at first; by November, they were becoming more common.
Blalock slowly began taking the chairs out of storage and moved them back to the library. An anecdote tells of a white library patron who, upon seeing African-American patrons using the library, tore up his library card in anger and vowed never to return. Two weeks later when the man returned to check out a book, he was met by Blalock who had earlier taken the time to tape back together the pieces of his card and save it in case he did return.
This award recognizes an individual who has made a significant contribution towards the development of library services in the State of Alabama. During that year per capita circulation for African Americans was 17 percent greater than circulation by whites. Through the years of the Depression, black borrowers used their limited book supply more heavily than whites used theirs. The average white library volume circulated six times a year; the average volume from a Negro library circulated 9.
Also, blacks were slightly more likely than whites to be library members. Among the youth, he asserted, enhanced access to educational information had improved classroom performance. The progressive behavior exhibited by northern philanthropists should not be confused with a commitment to social equality.
Their actions were forward thinking within the context of the times, but the Rosenwald Fund still worked within the prevailing social order. Library facilities in the South, regardless of their origin, were segregated in adherence to local custom and law. This was the only way they could have realistically been expected to be maintained in Depression-era Alabama, and in some ways the practice resembled the de facto segregation in place in other parts of America.
It was remarkable, considering their educational disadvantages, that the African Americans who inhabited the mining villages of Walker County proved, at times, more active library patrons than their white counterparts. In Alabama, it sponsored a new state library agency and an ambitious program of library extension. It was an attempt to lessen the reliance of the impoverished upon direct relief, instead engaging them in projects of enduring social value.
WPA planners believed that public library development was an area of activity that carried this social merit. Chapman led the section, assisted by Nellie Glass, who would later become librarian at Montgomery. Normally, state library agencies and the WPA sponsored a statewide library program with public libraries and school boards cosponsoring individual projects. The WPA offered technical supervision and it loaned books on a matching basis. The local agencies provided housing, furnishings, power and water, and funds for new books.
This included library deposits in such unlikely places as tool sheds, houseboats, tents, and remodeled chicken coops. In their efforts to extend library service to remote users, some WPA librarians resorted to delivering books by canoe, by horseback, and by hitchhiking.
There had been only 30, American library workers altogether in More importantly, the program created a public expectation of library service that lasted much longer than the temporary WPA programs. The state archives provided quarters for the extension program. The WPA librarians became library pioneers in Alabama. Lois Rainer, an Alabama native known for her extension work in Arkansas, served simultaneously as the director of the Public Library Service Division and the WPA state library supervisor. Only a few of these, however, were open to blacks. Chapman, the WPA library chief, inquiring about service to African Americans in the South, Chapman was hard-pressed to provide an adequate reply.
His letter leaves the impression that the WPA was doing little in this regard. Arkansas had only registered library borrowers among the African-American population. Alabama was not even mentioned, though support for black libraries in the state did occur. The WPA loaned books to some black schools. It provided aid for the few existing black branches and, in Huntsville at least, participated in the founding of a black public library branch. The Rosenwald Fund was successful in promoting libraries for blacks because it made service to African Americans a condition for receiving aid.
The WPA had no such national policy. But the WPA was ultimately unable or unwilling to provide comprehensive leadership in regard to racial equity in relief programs. Many eligible blacks in Alabama were unable to secure a place on the WPA rolls. The Library Section used its projects as a means to provide relief for women, but black women found themselves particularly susceptible to discrimination by the WPA.
The Authority employed white women in non-physical types of projects, like libraries. Most requests of this type were unsuccessful, however. Owen referred her to the Rosenwald Fund. Both Kerr and Lois Rainer, director of the state library agency, replied to Powell, encouraging her to petition the Pike County library supervisor again.
She suggested that the local black school was an appropriate place to house the collection. The county library supervisor continued to pay scant attention to the appeal. Powell again contacted Kerr. The WPA sponsored hundreds of new library facilities and improved service at existing libraries. It provided work for trained librarians and drew new ones into the profession.
The WPA effort created a more widespread expectation of library service and resulted in the emergence of a state library agency. New Dealers at the national level proved unable or unwilling to provide leadership in this area. Provision of service to African Americans was not a condition for receiving aid as in the Rosenwald program. Local priorities and prejudices often resulted in unfair distribution of work relief jobs. African Americans were interested in library work, even if they were only mildly interested in libraries. The hardships of the Depression fell disproportionately upon them and black Alabamians, particularly women, needed the WPA library posts for economic relief.
The TVA and its supporters sought a broad program of regional development, an unprecedented experiment in federal action, that would contribute substantially to the welfare of the people of the Tennessee Valley, part of which lay within the borders of Alabama. In many areas, including the development of regional library service, the TVA was a success.
It is also clear, however, that administrators were more concerned about progress among white Americans than they were for African Americans during the Depression. The agency made advances; the TVA projects provided relief work and occupational training for hundreds of needy blacks. It provided many of them with some kind of library service. At least at the national level of TVA governance, there were efforts to improve race relations and to achieve fair treatment. During the Depression, however, the discrimination in TVA library service was characteristic of a general trend of adherence to the southern racial status quo.
The TVA activities represented an unrealized opportunity for the federal government to create a precedent in regard to the place of African Americans in the economic, social, and cultural development of the region. The basin covers 42, square miles in parts of seven states. The inhabitants were predominantly rural and suffered from a low per capita income, about 45 percent of the national average in Alabama occupies a large part of the basin where the Tennessee River cuts across the northernmost part of the state forming a wide valley traditionally used for cotton agriculture.
As part of its effort to enhance the socioeconomic welfare of the Valley, TVA provided schools, training facilities, recreation areas, and libraries for its employees and their families. She was hired as library consultant by the TVA in and her position became permanent the following year. Authority planners envisioned a system of camp libraries holding only the technical information workers required to complete the TVA projects.
Besides the libraries the Authority opened in community buildings of workers camps, it created deposit stations to serve employees living in outlying areas. Most workers had very limited educational backgrounds, so the focus was on making these facilities places where laborers would feel comfortable.
Blacks also complained of inadequate housing, training, health, educational, and recreational facilities. They expressed a general dissatisfaction with their treatment by white supervisors. In the initial reservoir clearance portion of the Guntersville Dam project, the TVA chose to hire only whites. During the dam construction phase, the TVA adopted a quota system to insure that blacks were hired at Guntersville. As a result of residential segregation and poor planning African Americans suffered from a shortage of housing.
The Negro dorms were overcrowded and many black workers were left to sleep in automobiles on the roadside for a time. The children of African-American TVA workers faced the same type of discrimination in schooling that existed throughout the rural South, but at times the TVA abetted the unequal distribution of resources. Twenty-six regional libraries opened in the Tennessee Valley states as a result of the TVA library project led by Rothrock.
- Life-Span Human Development, 6th Edition.
- Reliability Physics and Engineering: Time-To-Failure Modeling;
- Patricia Swift Blalock - Wikipedia.
- See a Problem?.
- The iPad Handbook 2012.
There was no public library service for blacks in the area before the TVA arrived. Though this contingent of black readers was small, it represented a marked divergence from the standard TVA practice of racial segregation in recreational and training programs. The library provided deposits of books to surrounding communities that agreed to provide a librarian and housing. It rotated collections from station to station to keep a fresh supply of books in each one. In , the Wilson Dam Library had 17 deposits. Ten were located on the TVA reservations. Seven were in surrounding communities. There were four available to African Americans.
The Wilson Dam Library focused most of its attention in Negro extension on the black school in Tuscumbia, however. It held the largest collection for African-American readers and served as the headquarters for disseminating books to the other black schools in the Muscle Shoals area.
The only library service for black adults in the area, other than the extremely limited access to the Wilson Dam Library itself, was at the TVA Negro Village.
Collections Search Results
The camp recreation hall housed this collection intended for both training and recreational purposes. It became apparent to Rothrock that the TVA could provide more comprehensive service to its employees, particularly those who lived in areas remote from the worker communities, if it cooperated with library agencies already providing service in the Valley states. In , the Tennessee Valley Authority entered into a contract with the Huntsville Library Board along with three counties in North Alabama, Jackson, Madison, and Marshall, to provide library service to the employees engaged at the Guntersville Dam site.
Galvin became its director. Including the camp library, the Authority disbursed approximately sixteen thousand dollars into library development in the Guntersville Dam area in Prior to the involvement of the TVA, the region had only two public libraries, one in Huntsville and another in Scottsboro. By March of , the Regional Library Service was operating thirty-six library stations, six public libraries, and a book truck.
It was underway by the summer of , providing books for segregated black schools. Endowed in by Anna T. Jeanes, a Philadelphia Quaker, this philanthropic organization worked to improve education among rural blacks in the South, in part by supplying school districts with trained African-American teachers to supervise Negro education. The Jeanes teachers also circulated books purchased with TVA money to adults, but to a much lesser degree. Snodgrass with a deposit of books. The books served as the nucleus for a collection that grew to approximately a thousand volumes by the end of the decade through the support of several black civic organizations.
In the tiny Owens Crossroads community, an African-American TVA employee interested in bringing library service to rural North Alabama opened a small library for blacks with the help of the Authority. How it dealt with African Americans in an industrial setting could have created a precedent of fair treatment as the South continued its economic development after the Depression. Providing integrated, or even less discriminatory, library service to TVA employees could have initiated a custom of library service for blacks.
Search Google Appliance
It stood to enhance the expectation of adequate service among African Americans in the region and to place a lingering sense of obligation upon white library leaders. Acipco employed a biracial work force, so it duplicated the services provided for the workers. Having sponsored a YMCA library for whites, Acipco took advantage of aid from the National Youth Administration in to sponsor parallel library service for African-American workers and their families.
The Birmingham Public Library became involved, administering the new library as one of its branches. Cross-town rival John C. Eagan introduced paid vacations and pension plans for his employees. As a part of this program, Acipco provided reading rooms and eventually complete libraries for workers. Acipco provided black services on the second story with a door from the rear of the building. By the end of the s, the Acipco white library held about volumes and counted members among the employees and their families.
Having secured this modest library service for whites, the company was obliged to sponsor similar service for its African-American constituents. The result was a new public library branch that evolved from the combined efforts of the National Youth Administration, Acipco and its Negro Auxiliary, and the Birmingham Public Library. The NYA was a New Deal agency charged with the task of providing impoverished youth with gainful employment and job training. The agency, created in , engaged high school and college-aged youths in a variety of public service projects that included library work.
The NYA insisted on equal pay for all of its relief workers, regardless of race. It emphasized projects that not only provided work relief, but also resulted in the transfer of skills that would help black youth gain employment in the future. Blacks were well represented; they comprised 28 percent of the NYA recipients in the state. Under the supervision of John E.
A local citizen donated the building to house a NYA center and the black community raised a thousand dollars to remodel and equip it. Approximately 12 percent of all NYA relief workers were employed in library projects. The agency paid library assistants, but it also was directly involved in building and furnishing library facilities. During the New Deal years, the NYA constructed 43 libraries or additions and repaired about existing libraries.
His suggestion was that the library board take advantage of the resources provided by the New Deal relief agency and by Acipco to create a second public library branch to serve African Americans in the Birmingham area. It was a logical move for both Acipco and the library board. Acipco could assure black workers that it was providing parallel library service for black employees. This group of twelve was elected annually by the African-American employees. This group would act as fund-raiser and advocate of the new library. With the assistance of the Auxiliary, Acipco provided the equipment and books necessary to initiate library service.
The company also paid the librarian, Daisy Jones and later Ludie Brown. The NYA provided the space for the library. It furnished materials and labor to prepare the space for use and it hired students from its relief rolls to work in the library. The Birmingham Public Library and its library board administered the branch. Washington Branch, provided guidance in the management of the new African-American library.
It involved a library board interested in expanding its activities in the area of black librarianship, so long as the project was inexpensive and consistent with the racial status quo. It included philanthropy, of which welfare capitalism can be considered a type. The African-American community helped to support the library and acted as its advocate. The Rosenwald Fund was an important sponsor of black library development. By making the provision of service to African Americans a condition for receiving library aid, the Fund coaxed counties that otherwise would not have extended service to blacks into doing so.
The Rosenwald agents did not advocate integration, but they did demonstrate that leadership in the area of race relations could result in a much more fair arrangement within the parameters of segregation. The New Deal agencies, except the National Youth Administration, failed to exercise this kind of leadership. Participants in the WPA library program were not required to include African Americans in their plans, and in Alabama they most often did not.
Still, discrimination was an institutionalized part of the TVA library program. For the most part, however, the s was a decade of missed opportunities for the growth of African-American library service in Alabama. Since they had no representatives in municipal governments and few could vote, these individuals created strong, active civic organizations that served as the substitute for a political voice.
They solicited aid from federal agencies and the state public library service. But the initial efforts to secure black public libraries came from the communities they would serve. As events in Huntsville, Montgomery, and Birmingham during the s and s illustrate, the African-American public library movement in Alabama was, at its core, an indigenous enterprise driven by the work of black civic and religious organizations, educators, clergy, business leaders, and librarians.
Under segregation, African Americans lacked the public funds for services whites enjoyed; often black communities had to erect their own civic infrastructure. Such was the case in Huntsville. The library was located in the county courthouse; women were barred from using it. In , during the constitutional convention called to form the state of Alabama, James G. Birney asked the group to grant a charter for the Huntsville Library; the charter was given in In , Huntsville secured a Carnegie grant to improve the library, which had persisted through several incarnations since the original facility.
Though the institution received its support from the community as a whole, the Huntsville Library Board expressed clearly its intent to exclude African Americans from the new library. But when the TVA library funding ended, the city still had no public library for its African-American population. Though poverty placed considerable strains on her family, Dulcina took her education seriously and was an interested reader from a young age. She went to Talladega College in Alabama about to continue her education and there she met and married Perfect DeBerry, who was studying to be a minister. In , DeBerry settled in Huntsville to care for her aging parents.
She discussed her concerns with Elizabeth Parks Beamguard, a librarian at the central library who eventually became director of the state library agency. Though it violated library rules, Beamguard covertly lent books to DeBerry. Galvin offered the job of librarian to DeBerry. She accepted the challenge and a local black church, Lakeside Methodist, offered the use of its basement to house the facility soon thereafter.
The walls were water damaged and smoke stained. There was some library equipment; it was left over from a failed WPA reading project. Shelving consisted of a large dry goods box adapted to the purpose. DeBerry was given two weeks to prepare for the opening. Young men worked to clean the library and prepare it for the opening.
The church and nearby neighbors lent tables and chairs to furnish the converted basement. Furniture received coats of paint and the ladies of the church provided refreshments for the opening, which took place in June of At the outset, the nascent branch had little to offer. Soon, however, the bookmobile began visiting the branch, exchanging new books for old ones.
With few other alternatives for directed recreation, the reading programs provided a productive way for black youth to spend their summer vacations. DeBerry invited parents, leading citizens, and representatives from churches and newspapers. DeBerry responded, asking a few leading black citizens to serve on a library board, to become advocates for the Negro branch.
The membership included Leroy Lowery, a prominent businessman and landlord, Edward Shelby Johnson, owner of a successful dry-cleaning operation, and Dr. Beard, a physician. Turner had suggested her school as a likely location; after receiving approval from the superintendent and from the white library board, the Negro branch relocated there on November 30, There was adequate space in the school, but no furniture suitable for a library. It held the event at Alabama A.
The musical raised enough money to purchase the materials needed to construct the library furniture.
A Right to Read by Patterson Toby Graham - Read Online
African-American students built the furniture at the local NYA workshop. It consisted of a large book locker, tables, chairs, a bulletin board, a magazine rack, and display shelves. Circulation showed a marked increase after the move. The library responded by closing for the summer of Most schools for African Americans had no libraries and there was no bookmobile service to these schools as there was for white schools. DeBerry encouraged teachers to come to the Negro Library to borrow books for their classrooms. In , African Americans still lacked the bookmobile service that Madison County whites enjoyed.
Beamguard suggested that the public library create a Negro section on the book truck it already operated. Beamguard believed that the branch needed its independence from the Winston Street School if it was to adequately serve all age groups. DeBerry left for North Carolina in to care for an older sister.
In the library moved to the Negro Community Center on Church Street where it remained into the s. African Americans donated space, labor, money, and talent to sustain the Negro Library. The need for the service was obvious and the group drew enough support from the city and the state library agency to open the Union Street Branch Library in The Association managed to secure a Carnegie grant in and in the city opened a library on Perry Street.
As the years passed, however, the city neglected to increase this sum. Library service was poor for whites in Montgomery, but it was non-existent for African Americans. They were barred from the Carnegie Library and had no public library of their own until They began questioning him, and upon learning of his employment at Alabama State they determined that he was an African American and turned him away. Daniel was not alone in his discontent with the library system.
Nellie Glass, the city librarian, reported in June that sixty or more African Americans had made requests for library service in the previous two weeks. They pay taxes too—should they not have a branch at once? In June of the Montgomery Negro Ministerial Association held a meeting to discuss the organization of a library for blacks. Green offered her help.
The state library agency could lend books to stock the library as soon as an institution could be established. The group of ministers resolved to initiate their own library association. Ralph A. Pace, Boy Scout Master. The members decided to address the white library board at its July meeting. If this was unsuccessful, they agreed to appeal directly to the city government. The Friends of the Library Association assumed responsibility for renovating the space and providing furniture for the library.
The state library agency would help with books. Over the course of a year, they painted, remodeled, and repaired until the community house was ready to serve its intended purpose. Pleasant was a native of Montgomery. Jones approached Pleasant with the letter and urged that she consider the possibility of returning to her hometown to initiate library service there. Pleasant had been offered more lucrative positions at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and in Atlanta. After attending a black grammar school in Montgomery she went to high school in Birmingham where she lived with an older sister.
Pleasant began volunteering her time and she eventually began to operate the library by herself on the weekends when Stratman was out of town. She stayed there for six years. After Snow Hill lost its accreditation because it lacked a trained librarian, Pleasant decided to begin her education in librarianship. In , she applied for admission to the library science program at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Her application was unsuccessful; the university was segregated until The closest library school that admitted African Americans was Atlanta University.
Pleasant studied in Atlanta for three summers before graduating in Inside she found the many boxes of old books and magazines that the Carnegie Library had provided. She informed the white library board of her refusal to accept the donation. Bertha Pleasant Williams remembers winning the respect of Nellie Glass, a headstrong librarian in her own right, by her stern reaction to the board. With the cooperation of Lois Rainer Green, the branch librarian selected the core of her initial collection from the holdings of the state library agency, the Alabama Public Library Service Division.
Bertha Pleasant Williams undertook the daily operation of the new library. They worked to sustain the Union Street library by holding teas to raise funds and by soliciting contributions from the community. The groups contributed their time and labor, remaining a basic means of support for the under-funded institution through the s and s.
Montgomery blacks had never had access to a public library. She believed that a publicity effort was necessary to make them aware of the new community resource.
By the time the Carnegie Library issued the — annual report, circulation among blacks had more than doubled. The library initiated summer reading programs to promote reading among young blacks, as DeBerry had in Huntsville. The resourceful Union Street librarian obtained materials for the blind through a program directed by the Library of Congress. The branch began service to African-American schools that lacked library facilities. Bertha Pleasant Williams encouraged educators to set up reading corners in classrooms. The city denied the request. Lacking a book truck, the teachers charged materials at the library and transported the books themselves.
After the opening, the branch had quickly outgrown the resources provided for it. The space in the community house was already inadequate by The municipal government approved a plan to use ten thousand dollars from the bond issue to construct a Negro branch on Cleveland Avenue. It would be the black counterpart to a new main library. Regardless of the racial overtones, circulation among blacks increased after the move. Williams continued to serve as librarian at the Cleveland Avenue Branch through the civil rights movement.
- CMOS IC Design for Wireless Medical and Health Care.
- Thumbprint (A Story).
- Main content.
She was eventually replaced by her niece, Teresa Temple, who got her start as a page at the Union Street location when she was in high school. The branch, integrated in , was still serving Montgomery in By providing a large measure of the resources required to commence and sustain a viable library, the community groups involved managed to acquire the backing of the city and the state library agency. Courtesy Mrs. The group also served a purpose the white library board had not intended.
Birmingham Library Board member Merv yn H. Sterne suggested in June of that the public library system solicit the aid of black civic leaders in bolstering the declining circulation at the Booker T. Director of Birmingham Negro Schools Dr. Carrol W. Hayes chaired the committee. Also serving were E. Paul Jones, the Jefferson County school director, and Mrs. Gaston, president of the Booker T. Washington Business College. The group decided that the inadequacy of resources made available for library service to African Americans explained the decline in book circulation. It also sent speakers to radio and television stations, churches, schools, industrial sites, and clubs.
It asked parents to join the library and to encourage their children and neighbors to do the same. It urged them to discuss books that their children read. The committee asked educators to better integrate library resources into their teaching. It hoped that teachers would encourage students to join the library, bring classes for visits, assign work that required library use, and make their information needs known to the librarians. The committee appealed to the clergy, asking them to promote library use among their congregations and to permit visiting speakers to do the same.
It asked employers to commend employees who joined the library and to provide space for deposit stations. The readings did not need to be of a scholarly nature, according to the committee. The number of enrollments was 60 percent greater. Attendance at the libraries increased by 33 percent. The Advisory Committee had achieved its initial goal. Still, black library service in the Birmingham area was limited to two small branches.
The group looked next to expanding service. In January , Sterne asked for opinions from the board members regarding the future of library service for blacks.
A Right to Read: Segregation and Civil Rights in Alabama's Public Libraries, 1900–1965
The library board was considering a plan to construct a central library for the African-American community using money from a bond issue. A board member, Mrs. Evins, objected to this plan. She believed it was redundancy of effort and resources. Evins suggested that the library board open the Central Library to blacks for the limited purposes of reference and research.
The suggestion was not adopted. The committee invited twelve other black civic leaders to advise it on how money from the bond issue should be spent. Civil-rights attorney Arthur Shores was among those invited. This group met with the white library board and the library director, Fant Thornley, on February 25, , to discuss whether blacks should have a central library or new branches, and where such facilities might be located. Rather than wasting resources to make special arrangements for the African-American community, the city should keep its money for the renovation of existing facilities.
The group asserted that the city should hire trained librarians to staff the black central library. In short, the black community leaders insisted that separate facilities be truly equal ones. Before Brown, this was a common strategy used by civil rights workers who knew that southern municipalities could not afford to reproduce exactly the public services they provided for whites. Washington Branch.
The city constructed a smaller library for blacks near the Southside housing project in Birmingham was a larger city, however, and it had a longer tradition of black library service than other Alabama cities. By the s, the central question in Birmingham was not whether the black community would have service, but what form that service would take. Rather than creating and sustaining institutions that paralleled the ones for whites that received full public support, the Negro Advisory Committee looked toward integration and equality of service.
Though they were unsuccessful in persuading the city to desegregate the libraries in , their actions provide evidence of the changing attitudes within the leadership of black communities on the eve of the civil rights movement.
Black clergy, educators, club women, and librarians were the most active representatives of the communities. Considering the disadvantages that segregation and a legacy of poor education placed upon southern African-American communities, it is remarkable that they maintained such an interest in libraries. Their efforts to initiate public library service were impaired by the economic and social subordination they experienced. The public library movement was, particularly among whites, a middle and upper class effort.
Only 3. In Huntsville, the percentage was 3.
Black women in urban Alabama were far more likely to be employed than their white counterparts. Most often, they worked as domestic servants for white families. The civic and religious organizations they formed stressed education, self-improvement, community improvement, also racial pride and racial advancement. Through their clubs and their churches, black women in Alabama proved enthusiastic and potent supporters of public libraries.
Among the few professions genuinely open to African Americans during the era of segregation were the ministry, teaching, and librarianship. Thus, it was individuals from these professions that provided much of the leadership in the creation of black social and cultural institutions, including public libraries. Educators also actively involved themselves in library development, since public libraries often assumed responsibility for the literary needs of black schools. The most conspicuous agents who advanced black public libraries were the black librarians.
Individuals like Dulcina DeBerry in Huntsville and Bertha Pleasant Williams in Montgomery became pioneers who worked diligently with minimal resources to provide service to a large population that was unaccustomed to library service and that had never enjoyed equal educational opportunities. The economic and social bonds that connected them with their race also gave these individuals a stake in the well being of their African-American communities. Particularly in Birmingham and Huntsville, business people adopted library development as a worthwhile direction for their civic energies.
Black business leaders applied their organizational skills and social standing toward establishing community library organizations that worked to initiate and sustain public libraries for African Americans. Excluded from the social and cultural institutions of white society and lacking adequate public support, the black communities channeled their energies into creating their own civic infrastructures.