Korey Garibaldi, assistant professor of American studies at University of Notre Dame, is an expert in the history of racial segregation and integration, especially within the publishing industry.
It is often forgotten that desegregation was not merely about “integration.” As standard practice in the South, African Americans were summarily denied access to libraries up to and in the years immediately following the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) decision.
William Yust’s “What of the Black and Yellow Races,” published in the Bulletin of the American Library Association in 1913, is emblematic of how this dynamic was framed by white progressives: “[T]here are still people who think that the negro [sic] is incapable of education and that it really unfits him for usefulness. Uncle Remus has a saying, ‘When you put a book into a negro’s hand you spoil a good plow hand.’”
This notion still lurks in the minds of a surprisingly large number of people.
For Yust and numerous other observers, the challenge of ensuring African American access to books in general, and public libraries in particular, was deeply intertwined with Jim Crow. By 1945, conditions were changing rapidly in the literary sphere—a transformation underpinning the overthrow of de jure segregation. A 1945 editorial representative of these dynamics appearing in Publishers’ Weekly thus noted: “With the world growing smaller every day, and modern transportation bringing its people closer together, the great concern of the thoughtful parent, teacher and librarian [...] should be to make this unity more than merely physical.”