Monday, February 17, 2014

African Americans and WC Library Use Prior to Desegregation

In February 1951, UNC System Trustee (and vocal segregationist) John W. Clark contacted Woman’s College Chancellor Edward Kidder Graham to inquire about faculty members’ support of integration and college policies regarding campus facilities and resources. In investigating Clark’s questions, Graham found that the Library (which had just moved in to its new building) allowed limited use by African-American students from neighboring colleges, and that Librarian Charles Adams had recently conducted an internal discussion with his staff regarding use of the Library by African Americans.
Entrance to the newly-constructed library, 1951

Adams’s library was relatively open to African Americans – both students and faculty at neighboring colleges and select community members. Full access to the public catalog as well as use of books from the closed stacks (via call slip), from the open shelves in the reference and periodical rooms, or through interlibrary loan was permitted. Visiting African-American librarians from neighboring colleges and students in the Library Training program at Bennett College were given full tours of the Library facilities. Reference services were “given liberally on request and considerable effort has been made to help them graciously and fully in locating material for their study or research.” Only the reserve reading room, which housed required reading for WC students, was not open to use by the African-American visitors.

After a face-to-face meeting with Adams regarding library policy in early April 1951, Graham wrote a tense letter outlining what he saw as the leading issues related to the use of Library resources by African Americans and chastising the librarian for his decisions to construct and apply Library policy without first consulting the chancellor. Graham argued that it was Adams’ responsibility to bring this matter to his attention before creating an internal policy, stating that “any procedure or practice, or any policy question, bearing on the use of College facilities by Negroes should be brought to my attention.” He added that any policies relating to use of College facilities must conform to Trustee regulations (which required segregated facilities), and that, because Adams did not involve him in the discussion regarding use policy sooner, “we now find ourselves in an unhappy position.”

WC Chancellor Edward Kidder Graham
Graham sought a formal policy specifically restricting African-American use of the library facilities. Adams, however, notably avoided a creating a policy that limited access based on race, choosing instead to develop a policy that more uniformly limited library access for all non-WC college students. Adams insured that use of the WC Library by non-WC students would continue, but only with a new requirement in place. All students from outside of the Woman’s College would now be required to present a letter of introduction or a card of identification from their home institution’s library.

While these new restrictions satisfied Chancellor Graham, Trustee Clark continued his assault on WC. In February 1952, he once again argued against use of the Library by African Americans, proposing a movement “that the Woman’s College Library be reserved for the students for whom it was built, and that if the Negro students do not have a sufficient library, one be built for them.” Trustee Laura Cone, a graduate of WC, pointed out the existing policy that required all non-WC students to present documentation from his or her own college librarian stating the student’s research needs. But, the remaining Trustees voted to refer the issue to the Executive Committee (which no longer included Clark) and request a full report at their meeting on April 19.

Adams once again avoided producing a policy with constraints solely based on race. His March 1952 policy statement specifically targeted “the use of Library materials by non-college persons” – never specifically placing restrictions on use by African Americans, students or non-students. Instead, it required all people who are not WC students or alumnae to present clear evidence of their need for the use of the WC Library. As noted in Adams letter from the previous summer, the policy required students from other colleges in Greensboro to “present a card or letter from their librarian requesting books or services not available at their institution.” Unlike the policies at State College and Chapel Hill, the WC policy allowed non-WC students – regardless of race – to borrow books as long as they provided the required letter of need from their home institution.

WC Librarian Charles Adams
On May 12, 1952, Graham took the finalized policy for use of the library by non-WC students to the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees. His report, along with reports provided by his counterparts at State College and UNC Chapel Hill, was presented by President Gray. Trustee Laura Cone made the initial motion to close the investigations, stating that “the Executive Committee is satisfied that the use of the library by Negroes is properly restricted and conducted at the three institutions.” With that, the major discussion of the issue at the Board level was resolved. Restrictions against library use by non-WC students were formally and firmly in place, but were to be equally applied to all non-WC students, regardless of the patron’s race.

The debate over African-American use of Woman’s College resources touched upon many key topics prevalent in North Carolina in the 1950s. While administrators of the Consolidated System fought against desegregation and the forced admission of African-American students to the University campus in Chapel Hill in 1951, Charles Adams and the librarians of the Woman’s College stepped forward to commit to access to information and Library resources, regardless of the color of the patron’s skin.

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