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Library Services Report: The Position of ALA Concerning Racial Segregation: 1876-1976

In African American History, African American Librarians, Books on November 16, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Arrested for trying to read a book in a segregated library. Albany, GA. 1962.

-This is my latest essay that I wrote for a class this semester. –

From 1876 to 1976 the American Library Association’s role in the segregation movement was minimal. The vast majority of library institutions from 1876-1960 were controlled by Anglo librarians and did not provide service to African Americans or Hispanics. African Americans were the most underrepresented group in regard to literacy throughout this time period. Before the Civil War blacks were not allowed to read and would be killed in some instances if caught doing so in the South. The Civil War was created due to the north and south disagreeing on the continuance of slavery.

Throughout Southern states Anglo men were determined to keep African Americans under control and not allowed to have the same freedoms as their own culture. In like manner, it took the American Library Association more than fifty years after the Civil War to stand up and take the initiative to recognize that all individuals deserved the right to intellectual freedom and freedom of expression. The movement that awakened the ALA’s change of heart against racism/segregation was the Civil Rights Movement that began in 1955 and ended in 1968.

 The American Library Association was never considered a racist organization. However, they were not supporters of African Americans gaining access to knowledge until the later 60s. However, the ALA and librarians did support immigrants who moved to the United States in later part of the 19th century and libraries recognized that these individuals had their own unique cultures and languages. In the book, Foundations of Library Science 3rd Edition, by Richard E. Rubin, he suggests that librarians tried to accommodate immigrants by helping them feel out papers for social services, citizenship, and literacy.

On the contrary, African Americans were treated differently than immigrants. African Americans had to depend on their own people who were literate (and many in the South had to hide the fact that they could read) to help them with some of the same services. Slaves had no rights to read, write, or have an opinion about their existence in the United States. In the North, it was more susceptible for African Americans to read and obtain an education versus the South. Yet and still, in both regions anti-segregationists helped African Americans by contributing funding to open their own libraries and literary societies. The American Libraries website provides numerous examples of these institutions that were formed including:

  • 1816: School/Library opened for African Americans in Wilmington, Delaware
  • 1828: The Reading Room Society, a social library for African Americans, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • 1831: The Female Literary Society, a social library for African American women, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • 1833: The Philadelphia Library Company of Colored Persons, a literary society, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Though monies were given to African Americans to fund these institutions they were still not considered equal to Anglo libraries. 

Finish the Article Here.          

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  1. Dig the signposts that you use. Much like I, the passion behind your writing often ignores the conventions of Anglo literary conventions (white). Slow down, and take the time to convey THE message in a way that ALL will find no fault.

  2. I’ve been absent for a while, but now I remember why I used to love this site. Thank you, I’ll try and check back more frequently. How frequently you update your site?

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