Friday, June 19, 2009

Juliette Morgan, Librarian for Racial Equality

In a sidebar in the book that I reviewed yesterday, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, Phillip Hoose briefly tells about white support for the boycott of the Montgomery buses by African Americans in 1955 and 1956. He devotes two paragraphs to librarian Juliette Morgan, who was terrorized by white supremacists after her letter stating her admiration for blacks who stood up against repression ran in the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper. Hoose says that after months of death threats and constant harassment through the night, she committed suicide.

Wanting to know more, I found "Juliette Hampton Morgan: A White Woman Who Understood" on the website Teaching Tolerance, A Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. This article tells how Morgan, a woman with deep Southern roots, began calling for an end to Jim Crow laws in 1939, sixteen years before the boycott. For years she wrote letters to the Montgomery Advertiser and participated in interracial prayer groups. For her outspoken stand, she lost jobs, lost friends, and became estranged from her family. Despite her isolation, the Carnegie Library hired her as a reference librarian. When her letter in support of the boycott ran in the newspaper, the city's mayor demand that she be fired, but the library refused, even when the mayor withheld library funding.

According my calendar calculations, Morgan survived through the boycott and retained her job past the crisis, but the strain must have taken its toll. Interracial violence continued in the city for years after the boycott. Severely depressed, she resigned from the library on July 15, 1957. Her mother found a bottle of sleeping pills beside her body the next morning.

The Reverend Martin Luther King mentioned Morgan in his book Stride Toward Freedom, and she has been remembered with induction into the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame. We need a librarian's hall of fame to remember brave librarians, such as Morgan and Judith Krug.

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