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Young, Black, Poor (It Bears Repeating)

Miles M. Jackson, a University of Hawai’i-Manoa professor emeritus and former dean of the School of Library and Information Sciences, published a dandy commentary in March 2002. Jackson makes the case that libraries can transform lives—assuming they are properly funded.

His piece, titled “If You’re Young, Black, and Poor, a Library Offers Hope,” shows how libraries (and librarians) were instrumental to the development of authors August Wilson, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, and Richard Wright.

In his essay, “The Ethics of Jim Crow,” published in 1937, [Richard Wright] describes how he devised a way to borrow books from the library. “It was almost impossible to get a book to read. It was assumed that after a Negro had imbibed what scanty schooling the state furnished, he had no further need for books. ... One day, I mustered enough courage to ask one of the men to let me get books from the library in his name. Surprisingly, he consented. ... Armed with a library card, I obtained books in the following manner. I would write a note addressed to the librarian and sign the name of the white supervisor. I would stand at the desk, with hat in hand looking as unbookish as possible. When I received the books I would take them home.” In this manner, Wright developed even deeper his passion for reading.

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