Wayne Wiegand’s short article on the struggle of young people like Joseph Jackson to desegregate libraries in the South in 1961

Read the full article here, “Desegregating Libraries in the American South”
Forgotten heroes in civil rights history” by Wayne A. Wiegand in American Libraries.

At 11 a.m. on March 27, 1961, nine students from the historically black Tougaloo College walked into the all-white Jackson (Miss.) Public Library. Joseph Jackson Jr., their leader, approached the circulation desk. With heart thumping, he stammered a message he had memorized: “Ma’am, I want to know if you have this philosophy book. I need it for a research project.”

“You know you don’t belong here!” the library assistant yelled, proceeding to call the library director.

“May I help you?” the latter asked, coming out of her office.

“We’re doing research,” the students responded.

“There’s a colored library on Mill Street,” she said. “You are welcome there.”

Almost immediately, Jackson later reported, police entered the building and told the students to get out of the library. No one moved. The chief of police then told them that they were under arrest.

Six officers placed the students into squad cars and at the station charged them with breach of the peace because they failed to leave the library when ordered. They were booked into the local jail, where each was held on $500 bond.

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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