THE JIM CROW SERIES OF
HARLOW PUBLISHING COMPANY
Louise S. Robbins
“Excellent readers in the Negro American Series, designed to be used with Negro children, to give them a pride in their race and to inspire them to become good American citizens. Brief biographical information about outstanding colored people of yesterday and today has been skillfully worked into the text. Photographs and silhouettes are used as illustrations. Large type.”1 So read the review of Emma E. Akin's four graded readers in the American Library Association's Booklist, a tool used by librarians across the United States to make selections for their collections.
The books—Negro Boys and Girls, Gifts, A Booker T. Washington School, and Ideals and Adventures—were unusual in the book world in 1938. First, they were designed and published specifically for African-American students. Second, their author, Emma E. Akin, supervisor of elementary grades for the Drumright, Oklahoma School District, was white. Third, the books were published by the Harlow Publishing Company of Oklahoma City, a firm closely associated with Oklahoma's white political establishment, owned and operated by Victor E. Harlow. What were the books' explicit and implicit messages? How widely known and used were they? Why did Akin labor to write and Harlow choose to publish books designed to instill pride in African-American children in segregated schools? While the evidence yields answers perhaps as fragile as the books' now brittle pages, the books' anomalous character makes the questions worth exploring.
At the beginning of each book, Akin explains “Why This Book Was Made.” In language that differs only slightly from title to title, she explains: ““T”his book was made to help you learn more about your own