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An Unseen LightBlack Struggles for Freedom in Memphis, Tennessee$
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Aram Goudsouzian and Charles W. McKinney Jr.

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780813175515

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813175515.001.0001

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“Since I Was a Citizen, I Had the Right to Attend the Library”

“Since I Was a Citizen, I Had the Right to Attend the Library”

The Key Role of the Public Library in the Civil Rights Movement in Memphis

(p.203) “Since I Was a Citizen, I Had the Right to Attend the Library”
An Unseen Light

Steven A. Knowlton

University Press of Kentucky

This essay concerns the fight to desegregate Memphis libraries, which encompassed not only legal challenges but also a 1960 sit-in campaign that inspired direct action protests throughout the city. Allegra Turner sought access to the white-only Cossitt Library in 1949, and eight years later her husband Jesse Turner led a public campaign to desegregate the public libraries. In a way, this struggle serves as a microcosm of the larger civil rights struggle in the Bluff City. While the white leaders of Memphis did not encourage the violence against civil right protesters seen in other southern cities, they were slow and reluctant to open the library to readers of all races—and the library was the first public institution to be desegregated. The 1960 sit-in campaign provided a critical mass mobilization that helped drive desegregation, even as the public libraries continued to reflect patterns of racial inequality.

Keywords:   Memphis, Cossitt Library, Allegra Turner, Bluff City, desegregation

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