Civil Rights, African Americans, and Public Libraries


The History of Public Library Access for African Americans in the South, Or Leaving Behind the Plow

The story of the long struggle of African Americans to attain civil rights, particularly in the South, is well documented. The story of the public library movement in America is also well documented. However, the story of the African American struggle for access to public libraries in the South is not as well documented, with much of what has been written previously told in piecemeal fashion in short studies or confined to a particular southern state.


The History of   Public Library Access for African Americans in the South: Or, Leaving Behind   the Plow
David   M. Battles 

"David M. Battles proved a welcome and   needed examination of the integration of the public library in the South, one   of our most prominent but forgotten institutions. Filled with interesting   tidbits and clear descriptions, Battles's book marks a distinctive addition   to the history of American segregation and integration."— The North Carolina Historical Review,   Jan, 2010 


Libraries and the Cultural Record [Exploring the History of Collections of Recorded Knowledge] Volume 45, Number 3, 2010 issue.  

James V. Carmichael, Jr., writes, “For at least thirty-five years…library historians have been exhorted to broaden their narrative appeal to a wider range of publishers, to the public, and most of all to other historians….That library ignominy, and thus library history obscurity, is a situation that bears immediate correction is clear to David M. Battles, the author of The History of Public Library Access for African Americans in the South

This is an important book that chronicles major developments in library service to African Americans within the larger context of African American history….In twenty pithy and concise chapters Battles covers the important developments in African American struggles for civil rights and library access from colonial antecedents until about 1970, and he does so in a manner that is, for the most part, even-handed and fair. 

The literature of library history has distortions and gaps that will diminish only slowly, however, and the virtue of Battles’s book is that it provides a broad framework on which to hang future emendations.  Researchers in southern library history and diversity in librarianship should be grateful not only for the insightful précis of major previous works and reports…but also for his gathering together the many scattered association reports, journal articles, dissertations, and master’s theses as well as some firsthand archival evidence that students have learned about previously only by osmosis. 

Overall…the story is as completely told and expertly schematized in chronological form as could be wished [and t]he index is complete and fairly detailed.”   

Civil Rights, African Americans, and Public Libraries