Black Library Conference at the Hampton University Library School, 1927
Book bans are not new. We can link the current bans on access to books to earlier laws that prohibited Black literacy in the nineteenth century. During the institution of slavery, the methods used to prevent the dissemination of information to the enslaved were indispensable. It was not uncommon for African Americans to conceal books, newspapers, financial receipts, and other correspondence from the sight of their overseers, masters, or from whites, in general. And despite these obstacles and threats to life, African Americans understood the value and importance of knowledge through literacy.
Beginning in 1828, more than 50 African American literary and library societies were founded in Northern cities (mostly by free African Americans). Between 1920-1932, there were approximately 210 professional Black librarians. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of 2021, only seven percent of librarians identified themselves as African American.
African American librarians are continuing to challenge the status quo. The Black Caucus of the American Library Association is building pipelines and networks of African American librarians. Social media groups such as the Black Librarians, highlight the work of African American librarians with timely posts and updates.
The many advancements and achievements of African Americans in our history would not have been possible without the heroic unsung African American librarians who serviced our communities without adequate funding and under the threat of assault on their personal safety.
Opponents of free speech are finding that African Americans’ innate sense of protecting our institutions is strong and alive. Books have been and continue to be the lifeblood of our resistance to oppression and Black librarians are the guardian angels.
Submitted by Travis T. Armstrong, FSJ Community Manager