A Right to Read: Segregation and Civil Rights in Alabama's by Patterson Toby Graham

By Patterson Toby Graham

A dramatic bankruptcy in American cultural heritage.    * 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

Sample text

In 1925 they succeeded in convincing the city commissioners to approve a bond issue to fund the establishment of a free library. Voters rati¤ed the bond issue at the polls, despite vocal opposition by the city’s Finance Commissioner. 32 Blacks in Mobile saw the bond issue as an opportunity to obtain service for the ¤rst time. Soon after the election, African-American civic leaders began pressing the city government for a promise that the black community would get its share of the newly acquired resources.

44 The Davis Avenue Branch opened on July 14, 1931, but lost its funding after only three months. The library started with two thousand volumes and was open to the public mostly in the afternoons and evenings. The branch scarcely had time to make a beginning, however, before the commissioners voted to end appropriations for both of Mobile’s libraries. 45 The Davis Avenue Library survived the Depression by relying on gifts and user fees. Elizabeth Jordan turned to the black community for help, and it responded through fund-raising entertainments and personal donations.

The Rosenwald Fund was successful in promoting libraries for blacks because it made service to African Americans a condition for receiving aid. The WPA had no such national policy. Some New Dealers desired Black Libraries and White Attitudes II / 35 to help blacks more actively; Harold Ickes, the WPA’s director, was a race liberal. But the WPA was ultimately unable or unwilling to provide comprehensive leadership in regard to racial equity in relief programs. The New Deal legislation enlarged the role of the national government in people’s lives, but decentralization of power was still the order of the day.

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