Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

University of Southern Mississippi: New Online Archive on Racially Segregated Libraries

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

University of Southern Mississippi: New Online Archive on Racially Segregated Libraries

Article excerpt

Matthew Griffis (, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the School of Library and Information Science at the University of Southern Mississippi, has conducted extensive research as the lead investigator on racial segregation in public libraries in the South. His research has been digitized is now available online. The archive, made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services is entitled "The Roots of Community: Segregated Carnegie Libraries as Spaces for Learning and Community-Making in Pre-Civil Rights America, 1900-65." Griffis' primary area of research is the library as place, including library buildings as social architecture, public libraries as community spaces, and the history of libraries and librarianship in North America; he also studies the history of postcards and postcard collecting and qualitative research methods in Library and Information Science

Project Overview

The Roots of Community project examines the history of the twelve segregated Carnegie libraries (or "Carnegie Negro libraries", as they were called then), a group of public libraries that opened between 1900 and 1925 and were an official extension of Andrew Carnegie's (and later the Carnegie Corporation of New York's) well-known library building program. These libraries opened in Atlanta, GA; Greensboro, NC; Houston, TX; Knoxville, TN; Louisville, KY (2 libraries); Meridian, MS; Mound Bayou, MS; Nashville, TN; New Orleans, LA; and Savannah, GA. Only one segregated Carnegie library opened in a northern community: Evansville, IA. For as many as six decades these libraries served as learning spaces for African Americans in the pre-Civil Rights American South. By the 1970s, most had closed or were integrated into the formerly white people-only public library systems of their larger communities.

Little published research exists about them, however. And while public historians, researchers, and students of various academic and professional fields will likely benefit from knowing more about them--where they existed, how they were governed and managed, what guidelines or expectations they had to follow as a result of accepting Carnegie's funding--these twelve libraries' stories also have great potential to help today's library professionals better understand how library users, especially those from marginalized groups, create and sustain a sense of community among members as well as within the larger community outside of the library space.

The Roots of Community project's objectives are twofold: First, to complete the first comprehensive study of all eleven segregated Carnegie libraries, a project that will consider each library's civic and economic origins, governance, spatial design, collections, use, and place in the larger community. Drawing on documentary, archival, and other historical materials as evidence, the project aims to determine the extent to which African Americans used these libraries as spaces for participatory learning and community-making in the pre-Civil Rights south. Its second objective enhances the first: to seek surviving users of these libraries and record their recollections and experiences as oral histories.

Project deliverables include a full-length book (in progress), an educational toolkit for libraries and librarians, materials for the scholarly web resource, and completed oral history interviews to be made available through the University of Southern Mississippi's online special collections.

Andrew Carnegie, Carnegie Libraries, and Carnegie "Negro Libraries"

Carnegie libraries have been a popular topic of historical research for the past forty years. They were, put simply, public libraries that were funded by the Scottish-born American steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie who, from 1898 to 1917, funded the construction of 1,689 public and academic libraries across the United States. General historical perspectives about Carnegie libraries are common, and provide a rich and detailed basis for understanding the social contexts and economic origins of the Carnegie library grant program in the United States (Jones, 1997), the program's overall contributions to the development and spread of the modern free public library as a means for self-education and the spread of literacy (Bobinki, 1969), and, most especially, how Carnegie library buildings contributed in the early century to the standardization of power relations between people in public space (Van Slyck, 1995; Prizeman, 2012). …

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