Press
Press Release - Detail
For immediate release Saturday, April 14, 2018
Public Relations Department                       
Birmingham Public Library                          
Phone: (205) 226-3604                                 
BPL Website: www.bplonline.org 
COB Website: www.birminghamal.gov  
"Putting People First"

What: Author talk with Wayne S. Wiegand about his book “The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South: Civil Rights and Local Activism”
When: Tuesday, May 1, 6:00-7:30 p.m.
Where: Central Library, East Grand Reading Room
Details: Please join Wayne A. Wiegand, author of The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South: Civil Rights and Local Activism, for this free lecture as he tells the comprehensive story of the integration of southern public libraries. His book includes details of  1963  sit-ins by Miles College students that led to the desegregation of the Birmingham Public Library. Wiegand, a retired library science professor, is also author of “Part of Our Lives: A People's History of the American Public Library” Read more about this free lecture by clicking here: http://bplolinenews.blogspot.com/2018/04/author-talk-with-wayne-wiegand.html
Here is a link to the book from Wiegand’s publisher: https://lsupress.org/books/detail/desegregation-of-public-libraries-in-the-jim-crow-south/

On the Record with author Wayne Wiegand about book on desegregating libraries
By Roy L. Williams, public relations director of the Birmingham Public Library

Birmingham, Ala.-Author Wayne Wiegand is in the midst of a national book tour designed to educate the public about what he calls the “hidden figure” civil rights heroes who risked their lives during the 1960s to desegregate public libraries in cities across the Jim Crow South.

At 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 1, Wiegand – pronounced “Wee-Ghund” -is bringing his message to the Central Library in downtown  Birmingham. Wiegand, along with his wife of 53 years, Shirley, is co-author of  The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South: Civil Rights and Local Activism, a new book released March 14 by LSU Press. Click on a link to the book from Wiegand’s publisher, LSU Press, at this link: https://lsupress.org/books/detail/desegregation-of-public-libraries-in-the-jim-crow-south/

In a Q &A interview with BPL Public Relations Director Roy L. Williams, Wiegand talked about the book and how he hope it educates people about people who paved the way for African-Americans and other non-whites to be able to utilize library services in Birmingham and across the nation today.

What message do you want to get across during your May 1 lecture in Birmingham?
Wiegand: There are some hidden figures in history who have been kind of overlooked by civil rights historians, by Southern historians and by library historians. Let’s get them recognized for their contributions to their local communities before more of them die. A number of them have passed, but there are a whole bunch who are still alive like U.W. Clemon and Shelly Millender.
My hope is that Birmingham will recognize them for their contributions to local history when they helped desegregate the Birmingham Public Library. The same thing happened in Danville, Va., Greenville, S.C., Hattiesburg, Miss. Most of the places where I am visiting former protesters are showing up and many of them are being acknowledged for their contributions.           
The back of the book has a list of names for every one of the sites we focused on in the book. A lot of folks moved from the area they protested.  The third message is we hope this book becomes a part of the nation’s memory of the national library community. They literally are not aware of this history. As we researched the book, I had colleagues say to me “You mean public libraries were segregated at one time?”
Another colleague who teaches an intellectual freedom course had assumed that librarians were sentinels of intellectual freedom in the South during the civil rights era. We found exactly the opposite – they were mute for the most part.

People have heard of sit-ins by blacks trying to desegregate restaurants, businesses, public schools and water fountains. Do you feel many aren’t aware of efforts to desegregate public libraries?
Wiegand: A whole lot of people aren’t familiar with this. There are a lot of reasons for that. As the civil rights movement matured, Martin Luther King Jr. and many of his subordinates emerged as the image of the civil rights movement and the media tended to follow them. What happened is they didn’t participate in protests at public libraries so the media tended to overlook that.
We discovered in our research there are a whole bunch of young people who did these protests of segregation at public libraries and they’ve never been recognized. We hope this book brings them finally some recognition. 

Here in Birmingham many might not know that before he became Alabama’s first black federal judge, U.W. Clemon was involved in the movement to desegregate Birmingham public libraries.
What inspired this book?

Wiegand: On my previous book about libraries, “Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library,” it became obvious to me there was a tale that needed to be told about the desegregation of public libraries. While I did research using a library vendor called ProQuest Markets I found a black newspaper database that had about eight to 10 black newspapers that were digitized. In searching public libraries I found all these stories of protests at southern public libraries that the national media and white newspapers were ignoring.    
Black newspaper editors were making phone calls to these places asking what’s going on. The responses constituted the groundwork for research. In addition to that, we discovered a number of cases the NAACP filed to desegregate libraries. We knew if cases were filed in the local or federal courts they left a paper trail that we could follow.

Were any of those cases in Birmingham?
Wiegand: Yes there was one although when the library desegregated in Birmingham there was no reason to pursue it.

Tell the story of desegregation of Birmingham Public Library and how the Miles College students led the sit-ins. 
Wiegand: It started in the summer of 1962 when a black female named Lola Hendricks entered the Birmingham Public Library to check out a book and the library refused her because she was black. They told her to go to the black branch. Within a month, she and others filed suit in federal court to desegregate Birmingham Public Libraries and all public buildings.
While that suit was pending, the following summer (1963) was the really violent in Birmingham. That’s when the city was nicknamed Bombingham by a lot of people and Bull Connor was firehosing and sicking police dogs on black protesters. That spring was when Wyatt T. Walker, at the time the director of the SCLC, recruited a young teenager named Deenie Drew, her real name was Adine Drew, to case the Birmingham Public Library. She was a fair thinned African-American and could pass as white.
Wyatt Walker had experience in desegregating a public library when he was the pastor of the Gilford Baptist Church in Petersburg, Va. He knew what was going on. He recruited her to case the joint. She remembered walking through looking down at her feet because she was so scared. On April 9, 1963 she and several other black students entered the library and sat reading at a desk undisturbed. Whites said nothing; librarians never approached them so they left.
Walker didn’t like that because he wanted to force some type of reaction so he did it again. This time he recruited U.W. Clemon, Shelly Millender among others. Shelly Millender, the records indicate he was kind of the spokesperson for the group of blacks who entered the library on April 10, 1963. That’s when the local photographer took pictures of the group after they entered the library and were sitting quietly at desks.
Shelly Millender engaged the librarian who told him you should be going to the colored library. Shelly said “No I want to use this library.”
The librarian must have called the police. The police came, but didn’t bother to arrest them. Because they weren’t arrested, the students then left because they were there to be arrested.  The librarian got a little unnerved and called a special board meeting the next day on April 11, 1963.   
He said, “We’ve got black students coming in and I’ve chosen not to engage them because it appears there is no law that prevents them from being able to use the Birmingham Public Library main branch. What should I do?”
The library board at this time their consistency was a group of people who were concerned about the reputation Bull Connor was giving Birmingham nationwide. They said, Why don’t we just integrate the library. They made the decision to integrate the library that summer (1963). The surprise was it was during an extremely violent summer in Birmingham. The fact the library became integrated peacefully in the middle of that violent summer is kind of lost on people.
It was the sole site of racial conciliation in the middle of a town that was hosing African-Americans and turning dogs on them. The media of course looking constantly for photos and images that attracted attention paid no attention to the integration of the Birmingham Public Library. So it kind of got lost in history.

Describe the book.
Wiegand: What we did was follow the most high profile incidents of desegregation in public libraries that also had well known civil rights figures in the story. In essence, first we cover the issue of Jim Crow libraries and how they evolved. Then we cover the resistance to desegregating public libraries before Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954.   Then we have chapters covering states in general – Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. We end up with a chapter exploring what the American Library Association did and didn’t do. We have a listing of all of the public libraries that desegregated. The epilogue summarizes the whole book and summarizes what this means for the future.

Do you see those who desegregated libraries as heroes just like the foot soldiers who marched in Birmingham were?
Wiegand: I do. The thing that is most consistent is that they were almost all kids. The adults are the vast minority. The kids were the vast majority. These kids ranged from 9 years old into their 20s but most of them were teenagers. They were sparked by the Greensboro, N.C. lunch counter sit-ins. The 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education certainly was a part of it as well as passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. They said why can’t we use these facilities since federal law says we can. These kids risked their lives to force their local public libraries to live up to their rhetoric of being free for all.    

What’s been the reaction to the book so far?
Wiegand: The book is so new as it was just released March 15. I’m on the book tour and the audiences to whom I’ve been speaking it has opened up their eyes because they didn’t realize this was going on. Most of them are loyal public library patrons. The story is new to them although the Jim Crow humiliation that was exacted on black people in the South is not new to them. They just didn’t know it also went on in public libraries.

Where do we go from here in this fight for equality? 
Wiegand: I don’t know that our book is a guideline for the future. What I hope is this can inform a number of people to recognize that public libraries had a role in the civil rights movement and there are certain systemic racist practices that are built into library practice in part because they have not come to grips with their past on the issue of race. We hope this stimulates a discussion in the library profession about what they have done on the issue of race and reflect on that.

How many cities are in your book tour and where is Birmingham on that list?
Wiegand: There are about 26 cities and Birmingham is No. 18 in the lineup. The spring tour ends Thursday, May 3 in Montgomery. Then there are a number of venues that will occur in the fall. Some of these are determined by particular book festivals. I also did book talks during National Library Week at Ball State University, the District of Columbia Public Library, Central College of Florida in Ocala, Valdosta State University in Georgia and Florida State University.

Any closing remarks?
Wiegand: Particular to Birmingham I’d say when African Americans protested certain public sites in the 1960s, many of them closed – swimming pools for example. But libraries even those that closed eventually reopened. Most of them became sites of reconciliation. For Birmingham, I’d point to the fact the civil rights archives you have there are attached to the downtown public library. An irony is you’ve got Bull Connor’s papers in your Civil Rights museum. I find that extremely ironic. I know it was 20 years after the city library desegregated Birmingham elected your first black mayor who said we need to remember our past and he led the opening of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. There you have an evidence of the library eventually becoming a site for racial reconciliation.
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