Book Grants Program Helps Mississippi Libraries Fight Racism

JACKSON – Sixty years ago, a group of black college students were arrested and jailed for studying peacefully at the Jackson Municipal Public Library, which is all-white.

Today, the public library shelves of the Jackson-Hinds Library System feature books titled “We Are Not Equal Yet: Understanding Our Racial Divide,” “How to Be Anti-Racist” and other titles on struggle. against racism and white supremacy.

The “Anti-Racism Reading Shelf” Grants Program was launched by the Mississippi Humanities Council following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and nationwide conversations about systematic racism, said Mississippi Humanities Council executive director Stuart Rockoff .

“We created this program because we believe that books and ideas can change lives,” said Rockoff. “We know there is a huge need for books and programs on how we can understand and overcome our history of racism.”

Over 150 Mississippi libraries have received a total of 1,900 books throughout the state. The Mississippi Humanities Council gave each library system between $ 750 and $ 1,500 and compiled a suggested reading list of over 120 titles they could choose from including adult, non-fiction, young adult books. and for children.

Several contemporary Mississippi authors were included on the list. Libraries may obtain copies of Angie Thomas’ young adult novel “The Hate U Give,” the story of a black teenage girl who sees a police officer shoot her childhood friend and “Men We Reaped,” the memoir. by Jesmyn, two-time National Book Award winner. Room. In the book, Ward chronicles the deaths of a brother and four other young black men in his hometown of DeLisle over the course of four years.

A popular children’s book on the list was “Hair Love,” a book based on an animated short about the relationship between a father and his daughter and celebrating dark hair.

Kimberly Corbett, deputy director of the Jackson-Hinds Library System, said having the books was important as people looked for ways to educate themselves and engage in sometimes difficult conversations.

“I think the role of the public library in today’s society is to provide access – and that means anyone can find out about anything. It doesn’t matter where you come from or who you are, ”she said. “Our books are always on the front line. Books open worlds. I mean, it gives people the chance to see other perspectives and experiences and walk in someone else’s shoes for a while.

Jackson’s Public Library has always been a place of social change.

The nine-student Tougaloo College sit-in at Jackson’s White-Only Library on March 27, 1961 is widely regarded as the first student protest against segregation at a public institution in Mississippi. During their peaceful protest, the students were arrested and spent the night in jail. Jackson students and community members who participated in the Tougaloo Nine arrest and were greeted by police with batons and dogs.

The NAACP filed a class action lawsuit against the library, and a federal judge ordered the Jackson Public Library to separate.

Jeff Tomlinson, director of the Lee-Itawamba Library System, said the reason libraries can be vectors of social change is that they are free and open to everyone.

“It’s almost like the unspoken mission statement of public libraries that they are shelves full of ideas, not shelves full of books,” said Tomlinson, whose library system received a $ 1,000 grant. in the program. “That’s exactly what we’re trying to deliver to the community: ideas.

“We are doing ourselves a disservice if we don’t continually expose ourselves to new perspectives, new ideas, a variety of opinions,” he continued.

Funding for the Anti-Racism Reading Shelf program was provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Thomas M. Blake Charitable Fund # 2 of the Community Foundation for Mississippi, and private donations from Mississippi residents.

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