By Patterson Toby Graham
A dramatic bankruptcy in American cultural historical past. * Winner of the Alabama Library Association’s Alabama writer Award for Nonfiction Patterson Toby Graham is Director of the electronic Library of Georgia on the college of Georgia in Athens.
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Extra info for A Right to Read: Segregation and Civil Rights in Alabama's Public Libraries, 1900-1965
The New Deal agencies that were the most involved in library development had no such policy. Theirs was a decentralized, “grass-roots” administrative philosophy; decisions regarding black library projects were made at the state and local levels and re®ected local social customs. When leadership in the area of black library development came from outside the region, gains were made. But the experience of the Depression demonstrated that the po- Black Libraries and White Attitudes II / 27 litical leadership outside the region acquiesced to and often abetted the white South in the ful¤llment of its racial objectives.
Instead, local of¤cials determined the extent to which black Alabamians could participate in library activities. 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 WPA library program in Alabama was not a comprehensively biracial one, however, so African Americans were excluded from this effort toward “cultural democracy” that might have otherwise been an important step in black library development.
This was a marked deviation from the standard Jim Crow–branch method of library segregation, but there was precedent. Such an arrangement would allow black patrons to take advantage of the holdings and professional service available at the main library. This was not integration, but it was the closest alternative conceivable in 1926 Alabama. 20 / Chapter One With calculated deference, black leaders appealed to the paternalism and racial pride of whites. Dr. E. T. Belsaw, a leading black citizen and chair of the city’s Inter-racial Committee, wrote eloquent letters to commissioners and library board members urging them to accept the reading room plan.
A Right to Read: Segregation and Civil Rights in Alabama's Public Libraries, 1900-1965 by Patterson Toby Graham