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Desegregation of the Springfield-Greene County Library

 Story hour at the Springfield-Greene County Library circa 1963The Springfield-Greene County Library District was opened to all persons, “regardless of race, creed or color,” on January 1, 1947.  Previously, the district operated a branch in the Lincoln High School (now Lincoln Hall, Ozarks Technical Community College), for the black community.  This desegregation milestone occurred in Springfield fully seventeen years before the passage of The Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

Springfield (Mo.) Leader and Press, October 2, 1946, page 1.

By the unanimous vote of the seven members present, the Public Library board last night opened the Public Library “freely” to all citizens regardless of race, creed or color”---that is, to Negroes---effective January 1.

The action was taken by adopting the following resolution, which was presented by James W. Shannon of State College faculty, and seconded simultaneously by Dr. Glenn H. Benton of Drury faculty and Dr. Arthur J. McClung, pastor of First and Calvary Presbyterian church.

“Be it resolved:  That after January 1, 1947, the Public Library shall be freely open to all citizens, regardless of race, creed or color.  The date is postponed to Jan. 1 to give our library staff time to transfer the cards from Lincoln branch and re-issue them at the main library.  The branch library at Lincoln school will be continued for the benefit and convenience of those Negroes who wish to use it.  The weekly story hour for Negro children will continue at Lincoln school as it has for some years past.  This is not to be looked upon as racial segregation, but as a matter of library administration.  Furthermore, at the present time there is no story hour at the main library.  Lincoln schools students will continue to use their own library for reference work so far as possible.  This same request is made of all ward schools, junior high schools, and the senior high school, in order to avoid overcrowding by school children at the main library building.

Afterward, Dr. G.H. Lemmon, president of the board, made the following statement.
“The board feels that since it is not managing a social club, but a public library, it has no right, either legally or morally to draw a color line.  Andrew Carnegie, who gave us this library 40 years ago, no doubt felt the same way about it.  Practically every public library in the state is open to all.  At any time within the past several years if our best local Negroes had approached the board on this question, their request would probably have been granted as a matter of simple justice, no organization or committees or white aid were really necessary to their cause.  We hope that the new ruling will not offend too many Springfieldians.  A year from now, we hope, two or three Negroes in the library looking for books will not mean any more than two or three Negroes in a grocery store looking for washing soap or a bucket of lard.”
To learn more check our catalog for books and media about segregation.


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