Monthly Archive for March, 2013

From the Archives: Historic Library Desegregation

This post contains highlights of material from the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s CCC project, digitizing 40 archival collections related to the long civil rights movement from four area institutions. For more on this digitization project, click here.

News clipping announcing desegregation of Charlottesville public librarys

Newsclipping, North Carolina Commission on Interracial Cooperation Records, Folder 71, Scan 2

In the South, many public library facilities were not desegregated until the 1960s; however, a newsclipping in the North Carolina Commission on Interracial Cooperation Records briefly describes the “historic” decision made in Charlottesville, Virginia, to merge the main library system with the city’s “colored branch” and open Charlottesville’s downtown library to African Americans in 1948.1This event followed a similar desegregation of the public library system in Richmond, Virginia, in 1947.

Before this integration, Charlottesville had maintained separate library services for blacks and whites for 14 years, though the black library had never had a building of its own. Jefferson School was built in 1926 to serve as a high school for blacks in the community; after its completion, Jefferson High School became one of only ten African American high schools in the state of Virginia.2 Beginning in 1934, Jefferson School also housed Charlottesville city’s “Library for Colored Citizens,” an institution dedicated to providing educational resources to the black community at a time when blacks did not have access to the city’s primary library collections, due to the city’s mandate for strictly segregated library facilities.3 This school-library combination was fairly common in African American communities during the era of de jure segregation.4

All this changed in 1948 when the African American library joined the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library system. The “Colored Branch Library at Jefferson School,” as it had been know, was officially closed, and Charlottesville’s main downtown library was opened to blacks for the first time.5 Across the South, once begun, the desegregation of libraries tended to happen more quickly than other public institutions, but public library segregation was not brought to an end without its share of sit-ins and protests. However, on the whole, Southern cities seemed more open to integrating libraries than other public facilities such as buses, swimming pools, and schools. Gradually additional Southern localities began to follow the example set by early adopters, so that in 1953, more than a year before the Brown v. Board decision, 59 Southern cities and counties permitted “full use” of the main public library to African Americans. By 1963 this number had grown to 271.4

The headline “Charlottesville Drops Library Segregation” which appeared in 1948 was a sign of greater progress to come, and this clipping provides us with a brief glimpse into the fascinating history of public library desegregation.

1. “Charlottesville Drops Library Segregation,” Norfolk Journal and Guide

2. http://jeffersoncitycenter.com/city_center/history.php

3. National Register of Historic Places: Jefferson School and Carver Recreation Center

4. Fultz, Michael. “Black Public Libraries in the South in the Era of De Jure Segregation.” Libraries & the Cultural Record, 42(3), Summer 2006.

5. Jefferson-Madison Regional Library

From the Archives: Burford’s Success Story–the Black Studies Department at Duke

This post contains highlights of material from the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s CCC project, digitizing 40 archival collections related to the long civil rights movement from four area institutions. For more on this digitization project, click here.

In 1972, Walter Burford, the director of Duke’s Black Studies Department, referred to Duke’s program as “the most progressive in the South.” 1 Though at the time there was still much progress to be made towards the department’s permanent establishment, its presence was seen as a huge benefit for students on campus and the wider Durham community. In Burford’s eyes, Black Studies was a crucial element of a modern education, and he was “convinced that no one can receive a complete education without exposure to the experience and concerns of black people.” 1

After its founding in 1970, the Black Studies department sponsored courses, symposia, and lectures to give the African American experience a stronger voice in Duke’s academic community. In addition to high participation from the school’s African American students, courses offered by the department also saw interest from many white students; in a 1972 article written for Duke’s student newspaper, The Chronicle, Burford mentions religion and pre-medicine majors in particular “who see the relation of black studies to their own fields.” 1

While the creation of the Black Studies Department was a huge achievement for Duke, of the designation “most progressive in the South,” Burford acknowledged that “given the history of white, Southern institutions, I don’t know how much that is saying.” 1 Burford especially hoped to be able to bring more black faculty to Duke so that course offerings in the department could be expanded, but at the time continued funding was a major concern. Initial development for the department was sponsored by a $100,000 two-year grant from the Ford Foundation. In the third year, Duke University took responsibility for supplying the program’s funding, though annual funds were reduced from $50,000 to $41,000. To continue to meet the needs of the young department and its students, Burford strongly believed that the program would need space and money to grow.

Burford’s thoughts on Duke’s Black Studies Department can be found in this 1972 article from The Chronicle, digitized through the CCC grant as part of the Department of African and African American Studies records.

 

1. http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/uaafro/#daams02035

From the Archives: Images for Women’s History Month

This post contains highlights of material from the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s CCC project, digitizing 40 archival collections related to the long civil rights movement from four area institutions. For more on this digitization project, click here.

As we conclude Black History Month and begin a month dedicated to the appreciation of women’s history, we highlight two noteworthy photographs from the Jessie Daniel Ames Papers.

Negro Women attending Interracial Conference at Tuskegee, 1938. Image folder p0375, item 1

Negro Women attending an Interracial Conference at Tuskegee Institute, 1938. JD Ames Papers, Image folder p0375, item 1

The first image features an assembly of celebrated African American women, including Mary McLeod Bethune, a civil rights activist and educator who founded Bethune-Cookman University; Bethune was a close friend of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt for many years and facilitated the formation of the “Black Cabinet,” a group of prominent African American leaders who advised FDR regarding concerns of the black community. Second from the right is Nannie Burroughs, remembered for helping to establish the National Association of Colored Women and for her  work in the National League of Republican Colored Women. In 1940, she visited university president James E. Shepard at North Carolina Central University. Standing next to Burroughs is Charlotte Hawkins Brown, a well-known North Carolina educator.

In 1938, a joint meeting of two women’s groups was held at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Though they functioned as separate organizations, the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching (ASWPL) and the African American women members of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation (CIC) shared a common mission: the battle against racial discrimination and violence in the South.

During the Civil Rights Era, collaboration between organizations was a common method of sharing resources, ideas, and enthusiasm. An initiative from a 1934 CIC staff meeting showed both the importance of such collaboration and the value placed on women activists when it stated that “One of the most important pieces of work to be developed is securing closer cooperation between Women’s Organizations and the Commission on Interracial Cooperation.”1

Attendees of the joint meeting of the ASWPL & African American members of the CIC at Tuskegee Institute, 1938. Image folder p0374, item 1

Attendees of the joint meeting of the ASWPL & African American members of the CIC at Tuskegee Institute, 1938. JD Ames Papers, Image folder p0374, item 1

Jessie Daniel Ames, who served as the director of the CIC’s Women’s Committee in 1929 before founding ASWPL in 1930,2 is pictured in the front row of the second image, second from the right. In the beginning, ASWPL constituted a small group of women; Ames’ initial membership goal was to have at least one representative from every Southern state. Many of these women were pastors’ wives and other well-connected upper and middle class ladies who could help in the recruitment of local and state officials to the anti-lynching cause. Over time, this small association grew to become one of the most effective social programs in the US, with a total of over two million members.3

Through the mission of community education, the efforts of these Southern women had tremendous effects. Between 1922 and 1938, the number of lynchings in the South decreased by fifty percent. Many lynchings  were prevented by sheriffs and community leaders whose vocal support had been enlisted by ASWPL.3

At the time, a common justification of lynching was that the practice existed primarily as a necessary response to sexual attacks against white women. ASWPL was a strong opponent of this concept of lynching, and through the course of their research, ASWPL discovered that almost 80% of lynchings occurred over interracial conflicts unrelated to charges of sexual assault on white women.4 ASWPL was “profoundly convinced that lynching is not a defense of womanhood or of anything else, but rather a menace to private and public safety . . . [In addition] lynching tends inevitably to destroy all respect for law and order. It represents the complete breakdown of government and the triumph of anarchy.”5  With this message, ASWPL played a key role in effecting the decline of lynchings in the US. And in the process, the organization became extremely influential in changing traditional perceptions of gender in the South.

 

1. Excerpts from the Staff Meeting, 1934. Commission on Interracial Cooperation, 1920-1963.

2. Wormser, Richard. Jim Crow Stories: Jessie Daniel Ames. The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow. Educational Broadcasting Corporation (2002).

3. Nordyke, Lewis T., “Ladies and Lynchings,” Survey Graphic, 28 (November 1939).

4. Barnes, R.L., Jessie Daniel Ames and the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, 1930-1942. US History Scene, October 2011.

5. Resolutions, Conference of Southern White Women, Atlanta, GA. November 1, 1930.

From the Archives: What’s In a Name?

Over time “Negro,” “colored,” “black,” “Afro-American,” and “African American” have all been used as expressions of identity for black Americans. Two decades after the shift from “Negro” to “black” in the 1960s, at a news conference in 1988, Jesse Jackson launched a campaign to encourage the use of the term “African American” as a way to emphasize “a sense of ethnic identity” among black Americans.1 Over the next few years, prominent civil rights leaders and politicians would join Jackson in promoting this terminology change, and the use of “African American” would be adopted by major newspapers and public agencies around the country. While many Americans voiced their support for the term, Jackson’s campaign was not received with enthusiasm by all.

The Charlotte Observer published an article in 1989 in which prominent Charlotte citizens discussed their reaction to this new movement and their personal feelings for some of the racial and ethnic terms used throughout their lifetimes. The article contains responses from local businessmen, pastors, and public figures that reflect the divided nature of opinions on this issue. Rev. Clifford Jones Sr. appreciated the sense of heritage implied by “African American,” while 82-year-old Maggie Nicholson was uncertain of the new word; she still felt most comfortable with the term she had grown up with: “colored.” Artist Willie Stratford also discusses growing up as a “colored” person, because “that’s all I knew,” until traditions were changed by ground-breaking moments such as James Brown’s singing of “I’m black and I’m proud.”2

While some of those weighing in on the issue felt quite strongly about one term or another, other responses reflected the expectation that though African American might evolve into the principal or preferred reference, “black” would also continue to be considered acceptable.3 For example, high school principal Ed Sadler said he used the two terms interchangeably. Others took a more detached view from the current debate; Rev. Leon Riddick believed strongly that “whatever anyone calls me doesn’t subtract or add to what I am . . . I would rather be called an American without any connotation to color. I don’t like all these designations.”4

For more on the debate, this article from the Charlotte Observer can be found in the Office for Equal Opportunity and Equity Records.

1. Martin, Ben. “From Negro to Black to African American: The Power of Names and Naming.” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 106, No. 1 (Spring, 1991), pp. 83-107.
2. Charlotte Observer, The Debate Over Name: “Black” or “African American”
3. Wilkerson, Isabel. “’African American’ Favored By Many of America’s Blacks.” New York Times, January 31, 1989.
4. Charlotte Observer, The Debate Over Name: “Black” or “African American”