Magazine article American Libraries

This Month 100 Years Ago

Magazine article American Libraries

This Month 100 Years Ago

Article excerpt

. . . ALA was preparing for a conference in Atlanta, its first in the Deep South. Planning had gone smoothly until someone asked if a session on the library's role in the education of African Americans might not be suitable for the conference. ALA Secretary Henry J. Carr of the Scranton (Pa.) Public Library was cautious. He didn't think it wise to introduce the subject, "unless it be a very broad-minded paper."

ALA President William Coolidge Lane of Harvard was even more cautious. "I am somewhat afraid to tackle [it] & sh'd not want to say anything about it at present." If ALA decided to hold the session, however, Lane recommended as a speaker W.E.B. DuBois, a Harvard graduate who at the time was teaching at Atlanta University.

Anne Wallace, director of the Atlanta YMCA Library and chair of the local arrangements committee, responded to both on April 1. "To bring it in its crude shape before the national association, where partisans could make political capital out of it," she said, "would prove inimical to both white and negro [sic] interests." She also worried she would lose momentum she had generated to establish an Atlanta Public Library. Cart eventually responded that he and Lane recognized "the need of being very careful and conservative on the negro [sic] question at this time and in the peculiar situation that the movement at Atlanta has brought about."

On April 15 Lane wrote Carr that "the question of Negro Education, or the Negro Relation to Libraries, we will leave untouched altogether." When he opened the Atlanta conference on May 9, he looked over an audience of 215 registered white guests.

Eight years later ALA returned to the South, this time in Asheville, North Carolina; 487 white ALA members registered, and, like the 1899 conference, the subject of library services to African Americans was not on the program. That did not mean, however, that the conference lacked controversy. …

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