Freedom Libraries: The Untold Story of Libraries for African Americans in the South

October 31, 2020
Freedom Libraries: The Untold Story of Libraries for African Americans in the South

As the Civil Rights Movement exploded across the United States,the media of the time was able to show the rest of the world imagesof horrific racial violence. And while some of the bravest peopleof the 20th century risked their lives for the right to simplyorder a cheeseburger, ride a bus, or use a clean water fountain,there was another virtually unheard of struggle—this one for theright to read. Although illegal, racial segregation was strictlyenforced in a number of American states, and public libraries werenot immune. Numerous libraries were desegregated on paper only:there would be no cards given to African-Americans, no books forthem read, and no furniture for them to use.It was these exact conditions that helped create FreedomLibraries. Over eighty of these parallel libraries appeared in theDeep South, staffed by civil rights voter registration workers.While the grassroots nature of the libraries meant they varied insize and quality, all of them created the first encounter manyAfrican-Americans had with a library. Terror, bombings, andeventually murder would be visited on the Freedom Libraries—withpeople giving up their lives so others could read a librarybook.This book delves into how these libraries were the heart of theCivil Rights Movement, and the remarkable courage of the people whoused them. They would forever change libraries and librarianship,even as they helped the greater movement change the society theselibraries belonged to. Photographs of the libraries bring thislittle-known part of American history to life.