Sunday, November 2, 2014

Integration and the Anniston Public Library, Anniston, Alabama

The Anniston Public Library was built in 1918 with a grant of $20,000 from Andrew Carnegie on the corner of Wilmer Avenue and East 10th Street in Anniston, Alabama. The Anniston Public Library was one of 14 Carnegie libraries established in the State of Alabama. Like many libraries during the pre-Civil Rights Era, the Anniston Public Library was segregated. On Thursdays and on the first Sunday of the month, the Anniston Public Library set aside special hours for the city's African American residents to use the library.

In July 1963, a group of African Americans came to the Anniston Public Library to request library cards; however, no cards were issued because the board was waiting to receive word from city officials on whether the group's requests should be honored. In August of the same year, an African American minister by the name of Rev. Jackson came to the library and requested to view The Interpreter's Bible. The staff honored Rev. Jackson's request; however, Jackson was told that he couldn't use the book in the reading room and would have to read it in one of the offices in the library instead. Upon hearing this, Jackson decided to leave the library. These events lead the city and the library board to open the Anniston Public Library to all of  Anniston's citizens regardless of race. Sunday, September 15, 1963 was selected as the start date for integration.

On Sunday, September 15, 1963, two African American ministers came to the Anniston Public Library. The ministers, Reverend William B. McClain and Reverend Nimrod Quintus Reynolds, were members of the Anniston Human Relations Council.  The council and the library board were working together to desegregate the library. When Rev. McClain and Rev. Reynolds reached the library, a mob of angry whites attacked them (the number of persons in the mob was estimated to be around 100). The mob struck the ministers with sticks, fists, and a chain. McClain and Reynolds tried to escape by car, but were blocked in. They left the car and ran. Fortunately, a motorist saw them and picked up McClain and Reynolds, helping them to escape. The two ministers were taken to Anniston Memorial Hospital (now Regional Medical Center).

On Monday, September 16, 1963, accompanied by members of the library board, Rev. J. Phillips Noble (chair of the Anniston Human Relations Council), and officials of the city of Anniston, Rev. McClain returned to the Anniston Public Library. McClain and another African American minister, George Smitherman were issued library cards (Rev. Reynolds was still recovering from the injuries he received during the attack and was unable to participate; George Smitherman went instead). There was no violence or attempts to keep McClain and Smitherman from visiting the library.

The mayor of Anniston, the Board of the Anniston Public Library, the Rotary Club, the Anniston Star (local newspaper), and the women of Grace Episcopal Church contributed to a reward totaling $2,950 for the capture of the persons responsible for the mob attack at the library. The police arrested four men. One was found guilty; however, the case was dismissed at the request of the victims.

In 1964, the Anniston Public Library's name was changed to Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County after merging with the Calhoun County Library. A new building, with a construction cost of $359,397.12, was planned as a replacement for the Carnegie building. Completed in 1966, the new building, funded by $59,397.12 from city; $150,00 from the estate of Luther B. Liles (Liles was once an officer in the Manganese Corporation, chairman of the Good Roads Committee of the United States Chamber of Commerce, and president of the Birmingham-Atlanta Division of the Bankhead Highway Association); and $150,000 from federal funds received by the state, opened to the public. The library is still in operation.

*Note: Sunday, September 15, 1963 was also the same day that the bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama occurred. Four children were killed: Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, and Carole Robinson. In 2013, a bill, H.R. 360, was introduced into the United States Congress to have a Congressional Gold Medal issued in honor of the memory of the four girls killed in the bombing. The bill passed both the House and the Senate, and was signed into law (Public Law 113-11) by President Barack Obama on May 24, 2013.

Update 11/03/2014:

See related posts:

The Tougaloo Nine and the Sit-in at the Jackson Mississippi Municipal Library

The Robert Robinson Branch of the Alexandria Public Library (Alexandria, VA) and the 1939 Sit-Down Strike

Update 11/09/2014:

On YouTube, Rev. Nimrod Q. Reynolds, one of the two ministers attacked by the mob, and Charlie Doster, a member of the library board in 1963, recall the attack at the Anniston Public Library (begins at minute 13 and ends at minute 16):

Sources: "Hit Clergyman with Chains in Anniston: Negro Ministers Members of Biracial Committee on Social Problems." Standard-Speaker (Hazleton, Pa.) 16 Sept. 1963: 1. Print. ; "Ministers Integrate Ala. Public Library." The Kane Republican (Kane, Pa.) 17 Sept. 1963: 1. Print. ; "Ministers Enter 'Bama! Library." The Hillsdale Daily News (Hillsdale, Mich.) 17 Sept. 1963: 1. Print. ; Cutter, Jamie Irene. Getting by at the Benjamin Mays Black Branch: Library Access for African Americans in Jim Crow South Carolina, 1940-1971. MLIS thesis. San Jose State University, 2011. 57, 120. Pdf. ; "Racial Highlights." Wellsville Daily Reporter (Wellsville, N.Y.) 16 Sept. 1963: 1. Print. ; "Attacks Charged: Two Indicted in City Cases." The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.) 18 Oct. 1963: 1,3.  Print. ; Chisum, James. "Conferences Delay Start of Trials; Williams Confers with Attorneys." The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.) 12 Nov. 1963: 1, 3. Print. ; Battles, David M. The History of Public Library Access for African Americans in the South or, Leaving Behind the Plow. Lanham: Scarecrow, 2009. 128-129. Print. ; Graham, Toby Patterson. A Right to Read: Segregation and Civil Rights in Alabama's Public Libraries, 1900-1965. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 2002. 93-96. Print. ; O'Dell, Kimberly. Anniston. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2002. 19, 49-50, 58, 71, 79. Print. ; "Mother Tells of Bombing: I Began to Scream..." The Fresno Bee-The Republican (Fresno, Calif.) 17 Sept. 1963: 4A. Print. ; Loh, Jules. "Bomb Shakes City to Its Core." The High Point Enterprise (High Point, N.C.) 22 Sept. 1963: 1A, 6A. Print. ; Thomas, Rex. "Birmingham Quiet but Still Nervous." The High Point Enterprise (High Point, N.C.) 22 Sept. 1963: 1A. Print. ; An Act to Award Posthumously a Congressional Gold Medal to Addie Mae Collins, Denise Mcnair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley to Commemorate the Lives They Lost 50 Years Ago in the Bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Where These 4 Little Black Girls' Ultimate Sacrifice Served As a Catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2013. PDF. ; "Luther B. Liles Will Seek Vote on Bond Issue: Graves Will Be Asked to Call Special Session of Legislature." The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.) 8 Sept. 1930: 1, 7. Print. ; "Highway Meet Attracts 100 to Talladega: Luther B. Liles Represents Anniston Chamber of Commerce at Conference." The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.) 20 June 1933: 1. Print. ; McCaa, John. "Commission Adopts Operational Budget of $2,741,220: Library, Road Hike City Budget Near $3 Million Mark." The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.) 27 Oct. 1965: 6. Print. ; Plott, Bill. "Tribute Paid Liles at Library Opening." The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.) 31 Oct. 1966: 1, 7. Print. ; "Sign Tells Hopes." The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.) 2 June 1964: 1. Print. ; "Mayor." The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.) 1 Jan. 1964: 20. Print.