The noose is in the news again.
The appearance in national headlines of that symbol of racial violence, at the heart of unrest in Jena, La. and Columbia University, got some students at USF thinking.
A group of students in the Library Science graduate program organized an information session in their professor’s class to discuss race relations and the way public libraries have influenced them.
Three speakers who work directly in either library science or civil rights talked to Kathleen McCook’s Adult Services in Libraries class Monday and used the incidents in Jena and New York as a starting point.
“The image of the noose is what brought us all here together,” said Courtney Manning, a student in McCook’s class and one of the event’s organizers.
Library Science professor Cora Dunkley said she was inspired to become a librarian by the segregation laws that kept her out of the public library of her hometown in Georgia. The library at her all-black school was poorly stocked, so students like Dunkley who wanted access to more books had nowhere to go.
“I wanted to be a librarian to make sure that no other child missed the opportunity of using a public library,” she said. “When I hear about things like the Jena incident and other injustices, it all resurges. It brings it back,” Dunkley said. “I think that in this day and time, there is no need for that.”
Dunkley’s message to future librarians in the room was to be sure that they “serve all people, not only people of certain races” and to do “all that they can to be sure that they serve every child.”
Mike Pheneger, local chairman of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the U.S. has not come far enough since the days of integration.
“‘Racial justice’ in this country is an oxymoron,” Pheneger said. “We have not achieved racial justice in this country.”
He explained the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a concept that links skyrocketing school dropout rates among African-Americans to a swelling black prison population.
“Every day in this country, someone is racially profiled,” Pheneger said.
Susan Dillinger, who directs the New Port Richey Public Library, called public libraries “the people’s university,” arguing that they should remain accessible to all. When libraries function correctly, Dillinger said, they safeguard freedom and democracy.
She challenged the future librarians in the room to defend their choice of profession.
“Why do you want to be a public librarian?” she asked. “Are you willing to stand strong even if it means you might lose your job? It comes to that for some people.”
Dillinger gave the audience an example of standing up to opposition. Every February the New Port Richey Library celebrates Black History Month with an array of programming.
But the library has to set aside more than the expenses associated with hosting these events, Dillinger said, to replace windows smashed by vandals whom Dillinger believes are affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan.
This year the library decided to organize a march for racial justice – a move that particularly upset the local KKK.
“A KKK member called to say that the library’s welcoming of blacks was running down property values in the community,” Dillinger said.
The man who called her – who refused to give his name – said that if they did not cancel their march, they would be sorry. The library went ahead with the march anyway.
“The KKK didn’t show up,” Dillinger said. “I guess because it was daylight.”