Open These Hallowed Doors

Public libraries in the American South prohibited African-Americans from using their collections and facilities under the unjust system of segregation that existed before the Civil Rights Movement of the Sixties, as shown in this virtual exhibit by the Digital Public Library of America and in Dr. Cheryl Knott’s excellent book published last year, Not Free, Not for All: Public Libraries in the Age of Jim Crow.

Fortunately, some courageous African-American protestors challenged segregation in libraries, and a soon-to-be-published title is recounting many of their stories.

This past week, Dr. Wayne Wiegand, the “Dean of American Library Historians,” delivered a lecture entitled, Open These Hallowed Doors: The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the American South, at the Virginia Commonwealth University’s James Branch Cabell Library.  His lecture recounted stories from “court records and newspapers of young black resilience, energy and determination to desegregate Jim Crow–era public libraries.”  In addition, Robert Williams, one of the protesters at the Danville (VA) Public Library during 1960, attended the event and shared his experiences.

Dr. Wiegand has composed a book about the protestors, The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South:  Civil Rights and Local Activism, that will be published by Louisiana State University Press in Spring, 2018.

Dr. Wiegand also recently published a related article, “Any Ideas?: The American Library Association and the Desegregation of Public Libraries in the American South” in LHRT’s peer-reviewed journal, Libraries: Culture, History, and Society.  In the abstract, Dr. Wiegand notes that ALA “chose to look past the issue of racially segregated public libraries in the South rather than confront, challenge, or even discuss it. Not until the early 1960s did a few vocal members of the nation’s library community outside the association’s control force ALA to finally address the issue.”

We can all look forward to the debut of The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South and learning more about the local activists who pushed for integration and equality in library services.  Stay tuned to the blog for more updates!


Brett Spencer

Editor, LHRT News and Notes



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