RW: This is an interview with Mrs. Augusta Baker on March 8th, 1989, in her home in Columbia, SC. Augusta, we're going to try and do a semi-biographical thing. And I'm hoping we will both forget this thing, and we'll have a conversation here. I have you were born April 1, 1911 in Baltimore, MD. How about talking a little bit about your parents, what their background was.
AB: Okay. I came from teaching parents. My father started out teaching in those days, woodworking later on. He was interested in mathematics, so he went to Morgan College to get his A.B. Now you have to understand when this was. So there was no way for him to go to Johns Hopkins or the University of MD or anything of the sort. He had to go to Morgan College. But what he did do was to come up every summer to Columbia University, and he would -- he finally got his master's in -- I guess -- majoring in mathematics. My mother was an elementary school teacher. Now in those days, married women, when they married they had to stop. So that meant that as a mother, as an adult, she was a frustrated teacher. And I was an only child, and I was fair prey, you see, for my mother to teach. So my earliest recollection too...was a storytelling grandmother, and that may have been the seed for my later interest in storytelling...and a teaching mother. This made a problem then for my elementary school teachers because when I arrived in the 1st grade, I was way ahead. You know enough about children to know that if they know what that teacher is trying to teach, they pay no attention to it. I was a further discipline problem, but I thought it was perfectly all right for me to help the teacher teach. And even in those days, teachers didn't really need that kind of student assistance. And they did then what was called skipping. Now that meant that I was six years old, but they kept skipping me until my father put his foot down. Because they skipped through the 1st grade, they skipped me through the 1st part of the 2nd grade, at which he put his foot down. Because you see what was happening...I was too young for the children with whom I was in school. This was a part of my problem then all through my school life. I finished high school at 15 and then there were a group of us, so they did something called post-graduate high school, so I'd be 16 when I'd get that diploma. But the University of Pittsburgh didn't appreciate this. And I found myself really struggling that freshman year just to -- not necessarily struggling with the material but with relationships -- two kinds of relationships. One, relating to people who were maybe 2 or 3 years older who were all freshmen at the University, and I also had to adjust to this kind of relationship with white students. Because I had come from an all-black situation.
RW: You were in an all-black school?
AB: In Baltimore, MD. That was an extremely prejudiced place, well it was a funny kind, well it's south of the Mason Dixon line you see. So there was no school integration your whole life.
RW: But this was public school?
AB: Oh yes. And they had good schools and good teachers, but my father realized that I was developing into a prejudiced person. Prejudice through ignorance.
RW: You lived in an all-black neighborhood?
AB: Oh yes. You did, you know, in Baltimore. I imagine -- I don't know -- but I imagine there was more residential integration in South Carolina. People sort of lived according to the neighborhood. Poor people lived all mixed up together.
RW: I don't think so.
AB: Did they have...
RW: Always black neighborhoods and white neighborhoods, even for poor folks.
AB: I thought that maybe that was the reason why busing went more smoothly in SC, that blacks and whites, though they're association was not socially equal, they didn't seem to be the busing problems you had, say, in New York.
RW: Maybe because those neighborhoods in the south were closer to each other, the towns were smaller. Let me just stop and make sure the tape recorder is working.
RW: So had your folks been in Baltimore for a long time?
AB: They were Baltimorians. My mother's family... Let me back up: the south has long -- ever since slavery -- had dual families. And so you had the children of the slave woman and the master. Many times she had children by her slave master. That's the background of house slaves. The master was not going to allow his children to be raised down in those cabins. And so they were raised in the home. Now my grandmother was the product -- and she comes out of the Worthington -- it was really a plantation -- a small city -- called Worthington -- the same family that the Duchess of Windsor comes from -- the Worthingtons. Her father really evidently loved her mother, and he never married. But he brought the 3 children into the main house. He had an unmarried sister. And you see in those days, unmarried white women depended upon someone to take care of them. And....(phone rings)
AB: Well, anyway, that's my grandmother's background. She came to live in Baltimore City as a young girl. She met her husband, that would be my grandfather. He was a free black. And he was... his background was Maryland. And he had a hay business. They married and then they were the parents of my mother. I never knew too much about my father's background except I know that grandfather was an Indian. And see Indians married black women in those days. But great emphasis... in that level of black society, great emphasis was put on education. So you went to school whether you wanted to or not.
RW: So your father had gotten his master's degree...
AB: Yes, he left elementary school, and when he died -- and he died young -- he was teaching high school. And these places where they have the one high school -- black senior high school -- he was teaching mathematics there. Then of course when he died, my mother then went back into the school system and her specialty was special education. And she liked it. She retired from that.
RW: Now your father died while you were in college?
AB: I was a freshman in college.
RW: At the University of Pittsburgh?
AB: Yes. I managed to stay there and then I met my husband, my first husband, James Baker, III. He was at the University of Pittsburgh getting his master's degree in social work. He was an Urban League fellow. If they accepted those fellowships, they had to agree to work for the Urban League for 5 years. So we married, and I was what... into my junior year at the University of Pittsburgh? He was assigned to Albany, New York to set up what was called the Albany Inter-racial Council. Therefore, I transferred to what was then called Albany Teacher's College. And I had problems because they had attached to the school, a high school called Milne High School, which was where you did a half semester or a semester, I guess, of practice work. And back in those days -- this is about 1930 or 31 -- whether deliberately or not, I don't know, that high school was functioning as if it were a private high school. And the professor's children were going there -- the elite were going there. And when they interviewed me for transfer really, or admission -- whatever you want to call it -- in the casual talking they said now you will do your practicum -- your practice work -- and I don't remember the name, but it was an elementary school in the black section.
RW: Not in the lab school?
AB: No. And I said no. I really wasn't interested. I didn't; it would be much more convenient and they have fine supervisors and what not. I would just as soon do my practice work at Milne High School. Well, they felt that I would be working in some black school and so this would be good experience for me you see. And I said, I didn't want that kind of experience. On my husband's board of directors was Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt. FDR was governor of New York at that time. And of course she was always interested in these things. So she was a guiding light on the board of directors for this inter-racial council. And when my husband told her what was happening, she was very upset. And it didn't pay in those days to upset Mrs. R. At the same time, I wrote to the University of Pittsburgh and told them what was happening and that they really didn't want to admit me. So Pitt wrote back to Albany and said if I was good enough to be a student at the University of Pittsburgh, they thought I could handle Albany State Teacher's College. And that I had full access to the University of Pittsburgh, and they would expect me to have full access to that school. So now then the school gets that pressure, and Mrs. FDR is saying then you'd better let her in there.
RW: They were going to deny not only admission--to the school of education---but...
AB: Well, they wouldn't deny admission if I would agree [to go to the black school]... you see. But I wasn't going to agree and what they then said was that you can't come in...we will not admit you. So I've had interesting brushes.
RW: How did it finally get resolved?
AB: They had to let me in. So I was there you see for about a year and a half. Then I discovered, because I was going back and forth to the public library -- it was called Carnegie Public Library - had an opportunity to compare that type of librarianship with school librarianship. And you have to understand in those days it was just high school libraries.
RW: Now was your intention -- interest -- in being a librarian all along?
AB: No. When I got interested in being a librarian was when I lost interest in being a teacher and in being the Wallace School librarian. In being a teacher, and because Albany Teachers College was geared for that, but I did not want to be a teacher. So in 1933 I got the teaching degree and the woman who was head of their library school -- I had talked to her -- and she was the one who said come back and get a degree in school librarianship. You see in the meantime I was using the public library doing the reference work, and I could see the freedom, that was in the public library, and I could see way back then how we were locked into curriculum and this kind of thing in school librarianship. So when I went into library school... Her name was Martha Pritchard and she was, you know, one of those early, early teachers, library school teachers. And she was the one then who said, if you are willing to do 2 practicums (that is really what it amounted to) I will arrange for you to do this at Carnegie. But you will still have to do this one in Milne High School. That was interesting, Bob, because doing these two things at the same time, I got a really good feeling of the difference between the public library and between the school library. So I did the double practicum. Now my interest in story telling: one of my English teachers was Harold Thompson. He was a guiding light in New York's folklore society. And he was my English teacher. But we used to talk about stories -- talk about folklore -- because I had come out of a storytelling background. This was one of the ways my grandmother kept me quiet was to tell me stories. So I was interested and there came another interest. As I got interested, I met people in the Folklore Society. There was another English teacher -- I can't think of his name -- but he was into it. So there was another interest that was born. And out of my years up there -- my public library interest and interest in folklore -- storytelling was born.
RW: And you liked public library work a lot better than the school library...
AB: Oh yes. You see Bob, the school library -- the elementary school library -- there weren't any. Absolutely there weren't any. Now I graduated in the heart of the Depression, 1934. You know the Depression? FDR was elected president. Immediately he set about establishing all those alphabet things. And one of the things he established -- they called it then -- home relief. Now we call it welfare. But it was home relief. He -- when I say he, I mean, you know, his people -- they set up in New York a whole regional group, and they used to call them home relief bureaus. Now they needed, in order to set those up and to run them, they needed social workers--trained social workers. And they were looking for blacks to go into Harlem and to try to set it up in these areas. And so Jimmy was offered a job, he was strongly urged to leave Albany and to go to Manhattan, to go to New York and set up one of these bureaus. Now if you had any other profession... I mean, here I come with this library school degree, and I can't get a job. And when I trot down to New York Public Library's personnel to fill out forms...I'm ready to work. I discovered that another one of these things that FDR had set up was WPA... you've heard of WPA? WPA was the outlet for college trained men and women. But you weren't supposed to have any other income. So they had all kinds of interesting ways to get on, because you couldn't get a job unless you could get on this WPA thing. Well I had friends on WPA and they told me what to do you know. They said don't go to your husband's, by all means don't go to your husband's bureau... but go way downtown and use your single name. Well, I did. And I was sitting up in this waiting room with a zillion other people looking for jobs. And it turned out that the head of that WPA office was a personal friend of Mr. Baker's. And I didn't realize this. And as he walked through, and I'm sitting up there -- now really Bob, I had it made -- I'm sitting up there and I looked; I can't believe I know him. I drop my head and he never spoke to me. He just went on. But he went right back to the telephone and called Jimmy and said your wife is down here applying for WPA. And when I looked up a little bit later, here comes my husband...furious! Jimmy said to me, "You get home." I got right up like a sweet child and went straight home....oh, he was upset. But I didn't get a job. So that's when I kind of gave up. You know those were frustrating times. And they made it -- he made it very clear to me -- he said "It is unpatriotic for you to be looking for a job when I have a good job, able to take care of the family. And you're taking a job then away from someone who really needs it." He said, "We can manage. We can hang together and manage financially. But you're taking a job away from some person who needs it just to live." And you know I felt terrible. So I didn't try anything more. But I had put my application in to New York Public Library. And then I decided I would just stay home and this was discussed and I would start my family. Buddy was born, September, 1936.
In February of 1937, I got this very terse letter: Please come to my office ten o'clock Monday morning. And it was signed, Anne Carroll Moore. Now I had studied about her, so I knew that she was, you know, [Head of Children's Division at NYPL] what does she want with me? But I trotted down...curiosity. Well, that was a story. Because I sit down in her office and she tells me she had a black children's librarian in this big Harlem branch and she had gone into the school systems...see even then those high schools paid so much more money, and vacations and this kind of thing. So she had passed that school exam. I had previously taken it, and if you turned down three offers they took you off the list. And I turned down three offers. But anyway, Mrs. Moore said she needed a black children's librarian up at 135th Street, which was the heart of Harlem. And she had going to get an application. And I knew that they... Originally when I applied at New York Public, they didn't want that application.
RW: Because you were black?
AB: Yes... they didn't want it. They didn't know what do with me. So I say to her, well I've already filled out an application...two years ago I filled out one. And she was a tall, bony kind of woman, angular, but real -- oh boy -- those women back then, Bob, they ran the show. And most of those directors were afraid of them really. And she charged into his [the Director's] office, which was attached to the office where people applied -- didn't have personnel department and this kind of thing then... You could hear her in the hall. Because, seemingly, every time a person came in and filled out an application -- and put on the application his speciality -- if anyone said they were interested in children's work, those applications were to come to her and be in her office. And why didn't that one come over? Oh, I just sat in that office with my hands folded and said, "I don't think this is a good beginning at all." But she came back and she told me how badly she needed someone up there over on 135th street. And I said I can't work now because I have a small baby -- a young child -- and she said, "Don't you have anyone who can help you with the baby?" Well, my mother was in Baltimore teaching, but my mother-in-law lived in Virginia, just outside of a little place called Arlington. And she agreed to come up and take care of the baby and the house, and I agreed with Ms. Moore that I would do this on a temporary basis while she kept looking to find someone who was willing... and they didn't pay us anything... to take $110 a month. The few, handful of black librarians all went into the schools. I recall that when my boss went downtown, once a week to order books, I would say, "Ask Ms. Moore if she's found someone yet." And Ms. Moore would say, "Just tell Mrs. Baker we're looking, haven't found anyone yet." Well, I began to love it. So in my mind, I began to think, how can I make home adjustments, because I liked this...working with the children, no curriculum pressures and this kind of thing, but a real cultural experience and literary experience for these children. And lord knows they needed it. Finally, years later, Ms. Moore said, "I never looked for anyone else." She said, "Mrs. Baker, I knew you could adjust." And I'm glad I did because I stayed there for all those years.
RW: Now how many librarians were in the branch there?
AB: ...thirty-some in that one building.
RW: A lot of those were WPA workers?
AB: Well, a lot of them were WPA workers you see. And the public didn't know the difference. In my children's room there were ten or fifteen. When I took over as... because eventually I became head of that room -- I had about eight or nine on that staff -- just the children's room staff. But the public, they didn't know who were trained children's librarians and who was the WPA. But then that's when 135th Street really became known as a cultural center.
RW: For the entire Harlem community?
AB: You had... no there were -- how many -- there was a branch on 115th Street. Now the Spanish speaking people were moving into that area. So they concentrated on working with Spanish speaking...But then Aguilar Branch, which was on 110th Street and way over on the east side, they were working with the Spanish speaking public too. Then you had the Harlem Branch, which was on 124th Street. Their area was kind of Scandinavian and Swedish and this kind of thing--there was a colony of them there. Then you came on up you see to 135th Street branch, oh, and they had one on 125th Street way over west. And that was another ethnic group. See, New York City was made up of little pockets of immigrants.
RW: [not audible]
AB: Yes. And each one would have it's own public library with it's own special collection. And Pena Belpre, for instance, was at Aguilar. She was Spanish and she worked with Spanish children and groups.
RW: Now then most of the kids who then... people who came into your branch were black?
AB: Most of them were, but it was at that time... the Schomberg collections were born, you might say. It started out as the reference department. You see, there was still 135th Street branch, it hadn't been named yet. And it's reference collection began to build up black material. Now Ernestine Rose was the branch librarian -- she was white -- and she taught public library administration at Columbia University. She believed that a public library should be part of the community, not an educational building per sey at all. When you went to work for her, the first thing she did was to give you a pad and a pencil and she'd say, "Now these are the boundaries of 135th Street branch...you ought to cover that area and make a note of every institution, every organization, every group working with children." Then you'd march up, go in and identify yourself. So I would go in and I would say, "I'm Augusta Baker and I'm on the children's room staff up at the library -- 135th Street library -- and I'm just getting acquainted with the neighborhood." And she said, "Don't commit yourself" -- and I always remembered that because immediately they would say, "Well can you do anything for us in the nursery school?" And she taught us how to say, "We're just... we do this every year; we're taking inventory, then we'll let you know what we can do." And you found out the most interesting groups working with children and taking care of children because those, the parents of those children, the mothers had to work. They were the ones who were going up in the Bronx, standing on corners. Then the woman of the house, this was a Jewish area -- the Bronx then -- and they'd come on that corner and select someone to work for them for the day. And then the churches had nursery schools, and I'm talking about 1938, 1937, 1939 -- in there. And then you came back and you, the head children's librarian, would plan. Now we always had to plan our programs and our schedules for the... Well, we had two plannings; we planned for the two summer months, and then we planned from October through May. You couldn't sit at your desk and say gee whiz I'm going to have story hour next week, it was all...
RW: Planned out...
AB: Planned out for that whole period. Approved by the supervisor of storytelling. She was responsible for the approval.
RW: Now your central responsibility from the beginning was storytelling?
AB: Oh no, no. Storytelling was always part of your job as a children's librarian. And you got inservice training. I got it from Mary Gould Davis. And she was related to Owen Davis. She was a sister or something like that. And if you didn't... if you didn't pass that inservice when she came out to observe you and this kind of thing, and if you weren't willing to work, you got transferred to the adult department. It was as simple as that. I used to say to myself: who wants to work in the adult department? We had to work two nights a week in the adult department. And I had to work. I failed storytelling the first time; I was terrible. Miss Davis said this: she said, "The only thing you have is potential." And how many times did I use that expression when I became head of storytelling! Because even back in those days, any critical comment had to start on a positive note. So that was the only thing positive she could say about me. But I worked at it; I worked at it. I liked it and I wanted to do it.
RW: Well now I have... someplace I read, you felt very uncomfortable doing storytelling at first. You didn't really like it...
AB: Oh, I did, I didn't. It wasn't swapping yarns...you see. It was a knowledge of literature; it was knowing the criteria. All this we learned in the workshop. There'd be maybe ten picture books of The Three Pigs. You learned how to compare those ten copies and you soon knew who the outstanding artists were and what was the best language. And Miss Moore felt very strongly about this because she said, these children, most of the children in New York knew New York language. And they had no access to what literature really could be. In school it was Dick and Jane. So she placed great emphasis on what you told, the material. And then you soon learned that telling it -- now these were latchkey children that I had -- that they responded to beautiful language. But storytelling started in New York Public in 1905. And it was always -- and I guess it still is -- an important part of the child's literary heritage -- literary background. There was no teaching to it. It was a listening experience. But we always had to have that book handy to say, "If you liked this story, there are more of them in this book." And encourage them to read. And interestingly enough, Bob, I was there for 17 years. The teenagers -- there was no such thing as YA departments -- so those teenagers who stayed with us in the children's room and who were there when I went there to work and when I left, you see in 1953, they were bringing their children in. And all the wonderful reference work that we did. It was outstanding. They would all come in and say, "Do you still have story hour? Are you still telling stories?" I, by being in New York City so long, and by -- see 1953 when they took me downtown and I became head of storytelling -- I was all over the three boroughs. It was interesting what people remembered from their library experiences as children. And those were the days when out of Harlem came blacks who went on to become nationally famous.
RW: Like James Baldwin.
AB: I remember, he was one odd duck! His brother was named David. And David was a bright, outgoing boy. James was very much an introvert, was not as physically attractive as David. When I got to know their father, who was -- I guess today you would call him an evangelical minister -- fundamentalist -- and kind of harsh, you know, strict. But James turned out to be smarter than David, but you'd never know it. The library was like a haven for him. And this was true of many of those children. After school they came and they read the books and they sat. And he would be in high school. By that time the black material had been moved up on the 3rd floor of that library. Dr. Schomburg had been hired as curator because it was his material really. And it was beginning to be well known and this boy knew what was up there. Now children were not allowed up there you see. There was,-----(Meow)...no no no, we are busy, go on about your business...and that's all right, yes, I hope you are not afraid of cats?
RW: No, I like cats.
AB: Okay then. No, Sister.------- Physically the branch was -- by this time it had been remodeled and everything and you had an entrance on 135th Street and you had an entrance on 136th Street, which originally had just been the whole building. Well, James knew how you could sneak up those back steps, and he'd come out in the work area of the Schomburg you see, and then he'd go through, and nobody's paying attention and here were these wonderful, wonderful books on the black experience, which even then this was the thing in which he was interested. Well then, they'd find him and they'd call downstairs, Mrs. Baker, would you please come up here and get one of your children. I'd trot up the backstairs and say, "James, how did you get up here?!" And he wouldn't say a word. He was a strange duck. And I even sassed Dr. Schomburg, I said, "Couldn't we make an exception and let this boy use this collection? He's bright, this is his interest and you know" -- we didn't know then -- but you felt that maybe for all his life this is going to be his real interest. And if I made... let him go up... and we were working then to have, not babies you know, but maybe high school students use Schomburg's collection. And Dr. Schomburg was very liberal. But, see they didn't have young adult departments and this kind of thing.
RW: You must have seen tremendous changes to Harlem over the time?
AB: Oh my, yes.
RW: Because this is the time of large out-migration here in the south.
AB: Yes. And to see it, and see the ethnic change that you weren't aware of. But here was the black -- the center of black Harlem. And you [people in general] didn't realize when the Hispanics were moving into that same territory. We did in the public library, though. And this is when the emphasis in our branches changed. Remember when I said that 115th Street and even 110th Street became centers for Spanish materials. The city didn't realize, you see, how it was changing. And then 110th Street -- from 110th to one hundred... on the west side to 115th Street was Jewish -- solid Jewish. And then they moved up into the Bronx. And then the blacks moved in there.
RW: What kinds of changes did you see when the fairly uneducated blacks came from the south. How did the public library respond?
AB: This was when we did strong programming. Now remember they started coming during World War I, really.
RW: But most strongly during the Depression.
AB: But then, yes, during the Depression you had a great influx. This is when Miss Rose -- 135th Street Library is a cultural center and not just a library -- not just a book place -- so this is when we had concerts, we had lectures, we had book discussions. The concerts would be filled. And those tired women coming down from the Bronx where they had worked all day would stop off there, cause they were going to a concert. The concerts themselves...Miss Rose, no matter what went on in that library, she said it has to be the best--and free.
RW: Now Miss Rose was white or black?
AB: She was white. The first black head librarian there was Dorothy Homer. Miss Rose trained her. And then Miss Rose retired when the big... have you ever been up there? Well, that's an experience if you're thinking about a public library because of course it goes -- it now takes up a half of a city block. But then it used to go through. But if you were invited to be in that concert series, you had to be good. It was not an outlet for amateurs.
RW: These are poetry readings...everything.
AB: Poetry readings, music. And then the American Negro Theater got formed in the basement and that brought in the likes of James Earl Jones and what-not; you see, because they were struggling. And so that was going on in the basement. Everything free, of course, under the public library. Downtown administration, they had to, they had to just sort of let Miss Rose do what she wanted to do. And of course she did. And then in the children's room, we had every kind of -- by this time I was head of the room -- we had every kind of program you could think of because we had this huge staff. So, for instance we had the first toy lending library. And we did that in cooperation with the Catholic Church that was down in the next block. We had space in the library, and we set up this toy lending library. And little girls, they could borrow the dolls, say, for two weeks and they would have to bring it back. And whoever was in charge of that project would check and make sure good care had been taken of the baby and then they could have it for two more weeks. And they would bring it back, and then they went through an adoption procedure. And they could adopt the child. Now this was done with the fire department. We had a firehouse station right opposite us. Those men were extremely interested in what was going on in the public library. And they set up a project where people could bring toys, donate toys. And then fixed them all up, mended them and fixed them up and what-not. And then they gave them to us to go into this toy lending library. But, you see, when you do things like this Bob, it takes a lot of staff.
RW: Yes. Now you were slowly working your way up to the head of the children's room?
AB: Yes. I wasn't aware of it, but I was.
RW: Now was staff falling off during this time? Once WPA had been discontinued?
AB: We still had... Well, this is what happened. The administration still kept 135th Street heavily staffed. But at this time already there were sixty-some branches. So these struggling branches out there who had two in the children's room and knew that I had seven, administration was beginning to have staffing problems. And we were never the highest in circulation you see. We were doing more, more in the way of this cultural center. But you'd have a branch up in the Bronx, because always, you see, those Bronx branches, in the Jewish neighborhoods, you couldn't keep books, you couldn't... So now these children's librarians are threatening to quit. I'm up here and I can't take my head up from the desk and Baker is down there having toy lending libraries! So it was beginning to present a problem. So as staff dropped off, then a lot of those extra things had to stop. And the thing about having those extra things, it brought children and adults in so your circulation was not poor, it was good. Puppet shows, everything you can think of, Bob, we had. But we had to cut back. And by the time I became coordinator, we really were into staff shortages. Library schools were not preparing people to do public library work with children. Because you see in the meantime elementary school libraries were coming into existence. And when you have a small pool of trained staff, they could pick and choose jobs -- because they got more money -- off work early, long vacating...I mean we couldn't compete.
RW: So you were constantly losing staff to those places? Well, you became, I have that you became the assistant coordinator in 1953. This is what you're talking about in terms of going downtown.
AB: Yes, I became head of storytelling.
RW: Head of storytelling? That was your central responsibility for all the branches throughout the system?
AB: Yes...and the training. And it was really programs too, reading aloud and this kind of thing. Now this was a big step for New York Public. And they discussed it with me, they discussed it with Frances Spain because Frances was being hired at the same time as the coordinator...
RW: Of all the children's services?
AB: Yes. She was filling -- the person who was in charge of children's work before that...
RW: Anne Carrol Moore?
AB: No. Frances--Anne Carrol Moore had to retire in 1940 or 41 or something like that. Sayers, Frances Sayers, you know that name. See, she had been head of children's work in the Central Children's Room under Miss Moore. So Miss Moore used her influence to have Frances brought back as coordinator of children's services, but she only stayed about 8 years. Now...
RW: Now you and Mrs. Spain came practically at the same time?
RW: Well, a southerner and a black northerner?
AB: I'll always remember Frances Spain's interview. We talked about the philosophy of children's work and this kind of thing and she really had a little more training in school librarianship. But she had been in Thailand for a year. Now, she had been a classmate at the University of Chicago with John Cory. That was one powerful graduate class... boy! It was a powerhouse of talent. And John Cory was then the director of New York Public Library -- the branches. And so he and Frances Spain were friends. The top administration of New York Public Library wanted to get rid of the power of Anne Carrol Moore. Now this was going on all throughout public library work. Because in public libraries the strength up to that point had been in children's work. There was Siddie Jo Johnson in Texas; Julia Sauer up in Rochester. Those powerhouse women in Pittsburgh. And they ran the libraries. And you came in, and especially if you were a young person, young men then were coming in as directors, and you had to go up against an Anne Carrol Moore who said to you after you said I would like to take this direction and whatnot, and she looked at you and said...."No young man. No it won't. It will continue along this way and we will do this"... Well, you know this was hard on egos. And these men were getting together in ALA. Now they were not formally ALA then, they are now, but they weren't then. But it was a convenient time for these administrators to meet and share their problems, and their problems were always that person who was in charge of children's work.
RW: And her influence.
AB: And her influence. So they set out to cut them down. And children's work suffered then.
RW: And Frances Sayers was the successor...
AB: Now Frances was the successor to Miss Moore. And they couldn't do too much with her, but she didn't have the, quite the power that ACM had. But her philosophy was the same you see. Well, she had an interesting personal life. She married -- Alfred was a very, very influential Jewish editor. And her family, you know where she came from Texas... and what-not. Her family almost died when she married, didn't make any difference to them how powerful he was -- he was a Jew. And she married him anyway. And she stuck by him. But it was going to be better for him to be located in Chicago, so she only stayed with us about 7 or 8 years, something like that. And she and Alfred went on out to Chicago.
RW:...Frances Spain had been hired now...
AB: Well, she had been hired...
AB: Yes, she had been hired and she was given the right to select her assistant. And of course, they had four or five names. Now before they asked me if I was willing to have my name submitted, they talked with me and John Cory, especially, about the impact of a black, even assistant coordinator, on the profession. Now he said, New York Public's reputation is national and you may be called upon to go in the south or wherever, and are you willing to stand up to this kind of pressure? New York Public Library by putting your name in the hopper, says it's willing to back you. Well I, you know, I'd go... But she had the right to hire. In that hopper -- in those names given to her -- were children's librarians who had been with the New York Public Library longer, who were really more knowledgeable than I, when it came to children's literature and this kind of thing. The two women who were running the central children's room for instance. So I say to myself, well, you know, they can put my name in if they want to, but no way will this woman select me...irregardless of race.
RW: Did you know her before?
AB: No. Never had met her. It turned out that before she was hired, John had her tour the system. See we're now about 70 branches or so. And I remember them bringing this soft-spoken charming woman up to visit and such -- bringing her to the big Harlem branch and how charming she was. And she said later that when they brought her we were in the midst of having a story hour and I'm trying to get the story hour line straightened up and she claims that I just said, "Yes, how do you do, charmed, very pleased to meet you," and then left, ignored them and went on to take care of my work. But it turned out that she liked that. Because she was not alone you know, there was someone with her. Well, I didn't remember. You see we were by that time... if we had 4 visitors every day; it was a show branch kind of thing. So one more visitor didn't mean a thing. And you soon learned to put your children first and you didn't trot around with these people, they always had to have someone else, an adult or someone who would be with them, because we didn't have time. Well, she pointed out to me then when I thought I had. She looked familiar, you know, and that's when she said to me, "Don't you remember I came to that branch and I stayed there and watched what was going on in the children's room?" So all right, we had the interview. And so we're talking about generalities in children's work and this kind of thing. And she looked at me and she said, "Mrs. Baker, I'm going to ask you a very personal question." All right... She said, "Do you object to working with a southern white woman?" She put it on the line. She was remarkable... she still is...love her to death. And then we talked about what this would be and what it would mean. She then told me that she had come out of that southern organization that was before civil rights, what did they call it? The southern...you ought to know. And these....see now I know I'm getting old....Southern Conference...or something...but her grandparents, her grandparents had an underground railroad station.
RW: Oh really? She didn't mention this when I interviewed her..uhm...
AB: Well, this is what we talked about. And her mother was very active in this... it was an organization... Why can't I think of the name?
RW: I can't either, and I should be able to remember....
AB: Something conference...but they were liberals. They were southern liberals. Which explained her liberalism. Because never, I mean all the years we worked together -- never. She pushed me.
RW: What was your direct response to this question?
AB: Well, I said, no I wouldn't. Because I had been in New York, and I was fully integrated. I mean, I had as many white friends as I had black friends and whatnot.
RW: Where did you live in New York? Did you live near the branch?
AB: I moved to 110th Street. Now that's where all the Jews had these big apartment houses and when they kind of fled Harlem, middle class blacks moved in. So I had a beautiful apartment.
RW: Now your husband was, first husband was still alive?
AB: No, no, no.
RW: He died when?
AB: Oh, I had married again before he died. When I first went up to... well I can back it up as to when I married Gordon. I married Gordon in 1944. 1944... Jimmy died soon after that. We were both remarried. So he died in the early 40's.
RW: But your son stayed with you?
AB: Yes and my mother -- his grandmother -- was really kind and raised him. He didn't like New York. And I hesitated. Because I had to work, everyday -- had to work two nights a week and it just wasn't good to leave a child alone. So you had to make the sacrifice you see. Am I going to give up the mothering for the good of this child...and you know holidays and this kind of thing he'd be with me. But anyway I went to work with her keeping him.
RW: But he grew up in New York most of the time?
AB: No, in Baltimore.
RW: In Baltimore...okay.
AB: Yes, and then he'd come up summers and holidays and whatnot. And he was with his father, who by that time had set up his own public relations business in Washington. We had an interesting relationship where divorce was concerned. We didn't dislike each other. And we recognized the parenting and we recognized the fact that for this child -- he must never lose respect for either parent. And I remember when he graduated from high school, we all went to the graduation. I was married to Gordon then and Jim had... was married too... so it was all these...the families came together to celebrate this one child's graduation. I never went through this bitter kind of divorce thing and neither did he. But I loved working with Mrs. Spain. Mrs. Spain was an unusual... see these things she'd never tell you about herself. Maybe she didn't realize what an unusual administrator she was. But her aim was to further the professional life of her staff, not herself. So every opportunity she had to push you forward, she pushed you forward. Rather than herself...and that's unusual. She's responsible for my teaching at Syracuse.
RW: When did you first start teaching at Syracuse?
AB: When I, in the ... Let's see ... 1953, I became her assistant, so about 1955, Wayne Yenawine was the dean. And she sold him on asking me to come and do summer workshops. And I did it as long as Wayne was there. But the library made me do it on my vacation time. And I soon discovered that I needed real vacation. You know, come February I would get sick... this kind of thing.
RW: Now was Mrs. Spain partially responsible for your getting the invites to come to South Carolina?
AB: No, that was Wayne.
RW: Was it?
AB: You see, when Wayne Yenawine...when USC asked him to set up the library school.
RW: I know, but you were coming to South Carolina before ...
AB: Oh ... I was coming on my own.
RW: I mean for workshops and all this.
AB: No. Well now, wait a moment. She wasn't responsible, no. Her responsibility, Bob, was that she allowed me to grow professionally. So that I could begin to establish myself on my own. And that's what I mean by a unique person, because most administrators, when they get to that point they do not want their assistant to be better known than they are.
RW: That's right, they grab all the opportunity.
AB: They grab all the opportunities themselves. And she didn't. She and Nancy Jane Day were close friends. And that's why I knew Nancy Jane ... years, even when I was just coming down here, years before she, you know, she was working on her degree. And she used to stay in Mrs. Spain's apartment and take care of the cats, all this kind of thing. And we got along beautifully.
RW: Now when did you first come to South Carolina then? To do a workshop?
AB: When was civil rights--was 1966 I think ... wasn't the bill passed?
RW: Well, the 1964 voting rights act?
AB: Yes, let's say 1964. So I was coming down here in the late 50's.
RW: At Nancy Jane Day's invitation?
AB: No. You want me to tell that story?
RW: Yes. I want to hear that one particularly.
AB: The black South Carolina teachers had the Palmetto Teacher's Association. When the Department of Education, the teachers of schools and things, you know how they have these workshop days. When they had workshop days, the blacks had theirs and whites had theirs. Now it would have to be maybe the same day from the state department's scheduling. Now the blacks had theirs at Allen University -- and in those days Allen was THE black university in South Carolina. They were struggling, but Allen was the thing. Now I had been visiting Columbia ever since my son went to Fort Jackson, and so I met -- his wife was a teacher -- so the people I met socially then were teachers -- black teachers -- Ethel Bolden -- black librarians and this kind of thing. So I guess when they had their plans for their workshop day, they invited me to come and talk about black literature for children. And anything else.
RW: Nancy Jane Day was State Coordinator.
AB: She was State Coordinator.
RW: For school library services.
AB: I remember two women in some kind of administrative position. Two white women, coming to, say, the morning session. Now the way it was setup was, you had the morning session at Allen, then to the Fountainbleau out there on Farrow Road -- it was a beautiful white mansion -- so then they (the Palmettos) would have their luncheon at the Fountainbleau. My early remembrance of Fountainbleau was this beautiful white mansion that had been turned into a restaurant.... You see blacks were moving all along Farrow Road -- and these two women couldn't go to lunch with us. So they had to go off by themselves and have lunch and here we're going to have a beautiful time. Then come back to Allen for the afternoon sessions. So I tell you, Bob, I've seen ... I've seen Columbia change in black-white relationships. And I never thought I'd live down here but....
RW: These two women who came to this workshop ... were they the only whites, and were they from the State Library or from the State Department of Education?
AB: Maybe they were from the State Department of Education? They were from ... what was Nancy Jane?
RW: State Coordinator for School Library Services with the State Department of Education.
AB: But she was with the State Department of Ed. These two could have been teachers -- these could have been two women because it was a teacher's convention.
RW: It could have been white librarians, public librarians or school librarians.
AB: No, they were in administrative positions, I remember that. But I don't know where they were.
RW: So you came to Allen then first in the late 50's.
AB: And I came back a couple of times.
RW: All through the auspices of the Palmetto Teachers Association.
AB: Came back a couple of more times. Or at least one more time. So you see that's when I met Dorothy. I mean Ethel Bolden and Mary Francis -- and I was trying to remember some of those early black school librarians, the teachers I knew.
RW: Folks from the SC State College library school were coming in?
AB: I don't remember.
RW: Because they were really school library services.
AB: I don't remember whether they came up or not. I just remember the name of the organization and they were the local black teachers and school librarians.
RW: You were teaching children's services from the school library aspect, not from the public library aspect?
RW: In your workshops that you were doing here, was the emphasis on services to children?
AB: It was not on services.
RW: Oh, it wasn't?
AB: No. It was on materials. I'd come down on literature. And I never did anything in the area of services. In the first place, did you have any blacks in the public library?
RW: Not much.
AB: You see, it would have had to be school library and I never specialized in school librarianship and I've never really felt ... I can talk about materials and this kind of thing, but I don't think of myself as being ...
RW: Services person ...
AB: ... services person for school libraries.
RW: You were teaching storytelling in relation to the children's materials?
AB: Yes, and programming, and showing school librarians that they could do this. See, we didn't have school libraries in New York. Well, Mrs. Spain was still there and she left, what did I tell you? 1961? So this was previous to 1961. The New York Public Library was so strong in its cooperation with schools that Mrs. Spain realized that we were taking the place of the school library. Now she and Helen Sattley became close friends, and Helen was trying to get elementary school libraries started in New York City. But the way they did that, these two women put their heads together, and Mrs. Spain and John Cory always ... we always got good support from the administration. Mrs. Spain said we will not take any more school library classes for a year. And we didn't take them. The other thing she said to us was that we will no longer say we are serving the schools -- we're not. We are cooperating with the schools. And so for one year ... then that let them go down to. You see every time they went to city hall for the money to establish these school libraries, those politicians said you don't need them. The public library is doing everything that's needed for these children. You see Mrs. Spain was astute. And that's something, her sweet way. Because you've talked with her, and you know how sweet ... and steel underneath. Steel underneath -- perfect, southern woman.
RW: In South Carolina, what kind of picture did you get of the literature being used?
AB: The first time, the earlier lists that I made. They wouldn't allow the list in the schools. They said I was communist. And a subversive. Because on this list I had put Dorothy Sterling's Captain of the Planter, which was the true story of Robert Smalls. And the powers to be and your Board of Education said, "No way!" So the blacks down here they had to, whatever they did ... they had to kind of fight to get black books in their schools. To get them approved by the approval process of the state. Now I know good and well some of them, maybe Dorothy? ...some of them had to fight to do that.
RW: Did you hear about those fights?
AB: Well, you know how in conversation ... and I would say: "Boy, you know, do you want to be seen with this communist? This kind of stuff and I kind of ridiculed the state if you want to know the mentality of South Carolina. Somewhere along the line they got my list approved and they got that book on the shelf. Now some of them must know what they had to do.
RW: Mrs. Bolden wouldn't talk about it. I didn't know that specific incident, you know, but never any word about the difficulty of obtaining the kinds of materials that you would recommend.
AB: Well, I know when I, even when I first came down here. The first thing I'd do when I'd go into public libraries, especially, and even school libraries, I would read their shelves. And you learn how to do this in certain areas. You read very carefully to see what's on those shelves. And they don't have too much on the black experience. But we're getting it in.
RW: But then. What did they have?
AB: Practically nothing.
RW: What were those school libraries like?
AB: But they had multiple copies of Little Black Sambo and multiple copies of You Can't Pet A Possum and this kind of stuff. This was the black literature for children.
RW: In the black school libraries?
AB: White schools, black schools, any kind of school libraries. I guess it was in the white schools too. They were the approved books on the black experience.
RW: What was Nancy Jane Day saying from her position of authority as State Coordinator?
AB: When Nancy Jane came along ... I don't know this for a fact, Bob, I have a feeling that perhaps that this was when the ban was lifted on the Robert Smalls books. Maybe this was during her time when the ban was lifted on my black experience list. It was called "Books About Negro Life For Children." But I don't know that. Because I didn't really know what was in the libraries and things until I moved down here in 1980.
RW: Yeah, that's right. But you went in some during the time when you came down for the workshop for librarians. Now Nancy Jane came to most of these workshops that you did?
AB: I can't remember whether Nancy came herself or whether she didn't.
RW: But she wanted you to talk about...
AB: But she wanted me to..
AB: No, no, she probably wanted me to just talk about children's books. She didn't want me to talk to those white librarians about the black experience. The first time I did that with almost hostile white librarians was in Mississippi.
RW: During the 50's or 60's?
AB: I think it was during the 60's. "School Library Journal" wrote it up because George Woods and I went into Mississippi. Now when was integration?
RW: In the middle 60's.
AB: As a result of the civil rights act...so it would have to be in the 60's or late 60's. And, oh God, the hostility.
RW: Did you ever give a talk like that in South Carolina?
AB: I don't think I did. If I did, I can't remember. Because I was doing so much of that. Because you had to be the kind of person to do this without any personal feeling. And the minute you stepped before a group sometimes...
AB: The Mississippi experience was very interesting.
RW: I bet so. What were Mrs. Bolden and folks like her who were school librarians saying about the difficulties they had. Obviously obtaining these materials that you were recommending, but were there other kinds of things? Inadequate funding...
AB: In those days, black teachers and black librarians, many of them had to be educated themselves. They accepted the status quo.
RW: Did not question that it should be different?
AB: No. They got together at bridge club and told off the authorities. But that was one thing, and it was another thing to stand up before these authorities that could have you fired. And you needed your job. So in a way maybe it was more politics to bring an outside person in to say it. Now an organization like the PSA could do that. They were strong enough to say to the Board of Education, well, we have a right to invite whoever we want to come in and talk. And I'm just thinking with you on this subject, because I don't know.
RW: You were in and out.
AB: Are you kidding? If anyone had told me, Bob, that I was going to live in Columbia, South Carolina, I would have suggested that they see a psychiatrist! Because you'd better believe, and even after I came down here when my son was here too, I felt ... let me out of here!
RW: You came.... You flew in?
AB: Flew in. Couldn't stay at any hotels or anything. And there was a woman in ... I'm trying to think of her name -- Cuthbert or Culbret -- but she has died. She was very prominent in the black school librarians. And she lived, I think it was Camden. Because I stayed with her one time. But no. They couldn't have a luncheon in any restaurant, so the Fountainbleau was a natural place.
RW: This was a black owned motel?
AB: Yes. And started out as just a restaurant. Then they put some little, I think it was a motel -- it is now -- but it's a new brick building. And it was a beautiful old white southern mansion, you know, with all these dining rooms and things in it. I've seen Columbia change.
RW: What did your son ... he must have had difficulty adjusting to this. Did he just do it over time?
AB: He had friends. Of course, he met his wife when she was teaching. So when he'd come off the post, those men then had a social life in the black community.
RW: He was in the military?
AB: He was in the military -- Fort Jackson.
RW: For the first few years, anyway.
AB: He stayed in Fort Jackson and then when he ... and in the meantime when he came out of Fort Jackson, he went into the reserves.
RW: He works for a bank, right?
AB: The bank up on the corner. He was the token black.
RW: From the 50's? Or when did he first start?
AB: I need to backtrack. It must have been in the late ... you see, it had to be in the 70's because when he came out of the army...he was either married or getting ready to marry his wife. First he taught at Booker T. Washington High School. Now that was not a good experience because he was by this time a spit and polish army man and to say that those young people were a little more relaxed.... He went from there to the SC -- what's that organization that takes care of handicapped people and -- SC...
AB: Yes ... yes. And at that time he went to USC and got his master's in guidance. Because in effect, this was kind of what he was doing. And he was ... he was there for a few years. Now, an officer of the bank ran into him when he was doing this and I believe when he at USC getting his master's in guidance -- which has really no relationship to banking. But there was something about him that appealed to them and First Citizen's was ready for a black manager and then they called them. So they approached him and one year he was in training. He had to go to banking school and this kind of thing. And that little branch that you see up there, they built that branch, or maybe they had already built it. But anyway they put him in there.
RW: As the manager of that branch?
AB: Yes. And it was to a neighborhood.... Well, I say like a little black branch, neighborhood branch, this kind of thing.
RW: Well, I was always interested that this was the first black subdivision in Columbia. And houses were built like a regular kind of subdivision.
AB: Oh yes.
RW: Not particularly this area, but further back toward Fontaine.
AB: And then this area, they opened this up, Greenview they called it. It isn't terribly old.
RW: Well, back to the trips down here. Now you said that Mary Francis had been doing Title I supervision in the State Department of Education for those funds. And then she, did she work with Nancy Jane Day during this time, or was that still a separate operation?
AB: I imagine it was a separate operation. I don't really know. You know who could tell you if she would, is Mary Francis Griffin. See, what you're saying to me is that those women who, in many cases were pioneers in this kind of thing, I'm talking about it, but they were not?
RW: That's basically what's happening to me, yes. I hope she will talk to me.
AB: I'm going to tell her. You know some of them. I'm wondering if Ethel has told everything that she should.
RW: She didn't tell me.
AB: Well, I am going to sorta go after them.
RW: Well, I've already interviewed her so, you know, I'm.... It may be that she's, she thinks she has and I didn't ask the right questions because I didn't know the issues that may be involved.
AB: Well, you have not interviewed Mary Francis.
RW: No, but if you'll put a bug in her ear.
AB: I will. And what she needs to do, what they should have done, they should have accepted the fact that you did not know the right questions.
RW: Well that's....
AB: Because if you didn't come out of that experience, you didn't.
RW: Well, I....
AB: And they should have brought it up.
RW: I could have known them better. I would ask general questions....
AB: That's what I mean.
RW: But I mean the issue that you were talking about, particularly of getting your list of books approved, that seems to me like an issue that...
AB: My list was on the blacklist. Well, maybe they didn't realize it. I don't know.
RW: It could be.
AB: See lots of times things are done like this, in this kind of a situation -- segregation, discrimination. The people, they were being segregated, they don't know they are. They don't know anything about this list. New York Public sends it down to the Board of Education -- we think this would be helpful. They may not even have known it existed. They didn't know the books. The books weren't here.
RW: You didn't give the list out at your workshop?
AB: I probably didn't. I probably didn't because they would have asked for it. In some cases, now you know how the black teachers would come up to New York.
RW: For degrees.
AB: For degrees. And many of them went to that 135th Street Library and they may have picked up the list, I don't know.
RW: Possibly so. Well, the ... so several ... you don't remember how many workshops you did during the late 50's/early 60's before you moved down?
AB: I really don't. I know I came down more than once.
RW: So you became, then, the coordinator at New York Public once Mrs. Spain retired.
AB: That was in 1961. And I stayed in that position until 1973.
RW: When you retired from New York Public. You didn't move here til 1980 right?
RW: What were you doing from the time you retired from 73 to 80?
AB: Having a beautiful retirement. Went to the philharmonic, going to all the plays...I set up an organization within the NY Public Library called Friends of Children's Services. First, I had to kind of fight that it would be a separate Friends...because when it was part of the overall Friends, they took that money for adult materials. And you see, we had priceless books. Because remember, the children's work was set up in 1906 and we had all kinds of first editions. We had 30-some complete collections of St. Nicholas. And I was not going to let that money go to the research library. Then I could fight that, because they couldn't get back at me because I wasn't on their staff.
RW: Well, let's talk a little about your work with ALA. I have that you were on the Executive Board of ALA. Now, you were a counselor. I have 65-68.
AB: I was on Executive Board a couple of times.
RW: What was ALA like during this time? How did you get elected to the Executive Board?
AB: I got in, I got interested and got in. I won the first Dutton McCrae Award for Intercultural Children's Work. So I had to go to ALA in Los Angeles. E.P. Dutton wanted me to go and accept this thing because it was a big first. And I had learned about ALA when I was in library school, but it wasn't a particular interest to me. So I went there and I met other black librarians all across the country, there were about 10 of us there, I mean across the country. I went to the meetings and things. Of course, it was called Children's Services Division then. And I got interested, and New York Public thought that I should go to the conferences and whatnot, and they paid the way. So I started going to the conferences and that means I sort of made friends with the old timers in children's work. You know, like Julia Saur and Jo Johnson, and Mrs. Sayres and... I began to work then in that area. Now the first black to be chairman of the Children's Services Division was, I recall her name, she's my friend from Chicago. It'll come to me, Charlemae Rollins. So I began to work on committees and this kind of thing you see when she was head. Then my name came up after that to be head of CSD. Well, that meant then that I was on the ALA Executive Board and I had an opportunity then to work with the big ones in American Library work. My whole experience, Bob, in ALA was a learning experience for me.
RW: How so?
AB: Well, then you began to see behind the scenes workings. And for me, I have never in my life forgotten that I'm black. So I'm looking at these manueverings and behind the scenes workings and whatnot from the point of view of blacks. And let's get more black librarians in. You're not going to get black librarians if you're not interested in it. You don't pay any attention. And then children's work ... you know the administrators and all began to put down children's work. So these were the things that kept me active in CSD. Now you have to remember that all back in that period -- I call it an era of the firsts -- so all of my life back there I was always the first. Now, maybe because I could take it. Maybe... I don't know that. I would accept positions and jobs because I felt that if I said no, blacks would not be represented so well. So I found myself being, for instance, on that Intellectual Freedom Committee when it was formed. See, every time they asked me, Bob, to be on a committee, they were getting two or three things in one. Because they were getting children's work represented, and they were getting blacks represented. And they were getting library schools represented. Because by that time I was....
RW: Yes, you were teaching regularly at a number of library schools.
AB: So I had to watch that I wasn't over-committed. But the founding of the Intellectual Freedom Committee was right down my alley. So I worked with that and, see, what was happening was that I was being asked to work for general ALA committees, not just committees in children's services division. When this happens you don't realize what's happening. So years later when you start to think about it, you start to see what they were doing. ALA committees were moving blacks into the general committees and this kind of thing. B.J. Josey, he was active then ... A.P. Marshall ... you know that name? So that was interesting.
RW: This was a time of tremendous forment in ALA too? Social responsibilities, round tables?
AB: Yes. No social SSRT came into existence while I was on the Executive Board. And those were delicate times because you had to maintain an even keel and, frankly, you had to be very careful that you didn't move over to radicalism. And SSRT, I say radicals, maybe I shouldn't, but they were moving in. They were trying to take over ALA. Oh, I had some interesting times then because sometimes I was against them. Oh boy...
RW: As too radical?
AB: No, no ... as not supporting them.
RW: No, I mean that you viewed them as being too radical for the purposes of ALA.
AB: Well, yes, because you didn't want to split ALA. And so you had to recognize that ALA was made up of the whole country ... was not a local association. Was made up of the whole country. And ALA was really ... for instance, it was during that period when the whole ALA adopted that they would not hold ALA in any city where blacks did not have access to hotels and this kind of thing. And today that doesn't sound like anything, but in the 40's it was. And ALA was always -- in the 50's -- it was always a courageous institution in that kind of thing. I was on the general ALA committee a couple of times because I got elected to it. But I've seen ALA grow and now all of these little -- what do they call them now -- study groups... you didn't have anything like that. You might have a committee. But ALA has really grown. But they were the early fighters for equality, in a way, for women too because though the profession was dominated by women, the top jobs all went to men. And that's something ALA had to do something about, had to address.
RW: Now in your dealings with ALA and with librarians. What did you, how did you view the southern black librarians in terms of their conditions, their problems? Did you come across, not just here in South Carolina, but in other states, any of those problems?
AB: Oh yes. There wasn't anything like Mississippi. I mean South Carolina was liberal compared to Mississippi! No, but I'll tell you about the -- and this may be a personal observation -- but it seemed to us -- those active in ALA -- that the black southern librarians -- well, they certainly were coming to the conventions and whatnot, you see, because this was like a trip for them. It was not only an educational trip, but it was like a social trip. I don't know whether it was true, and I think someone said of South Carolina, that even going to summer school... that's why so many of -- in the summer they took over -- the blacks took over NYU and Columbia. Because if they could prove that SC -- that USC didn't offer -- they couldn't get the course -- they couldn't go to USC or they couldn't get the course -- SC had to pay for them to come to New York. So in the summer time there wouldn't be anything in New York City except southern librarians... black southern librarians.
RW: I think Mrs. Bolden was one of those you were talking about, who was turned down by USC and had to go elsewhere to get her degree.
AB: Yes, but they soon learned to sort of get together on this and make sure they asked for something that USC didn't teach or that they couldn't put into Benedict, or somewhere, if they could get something like that into SC State, or whatnot, then they could say, well, the state is providing this for you, you'll just have to go to....
RW: Did you ask about what the South Carolina Library Association relations were like when you first started coming down in the late 50's? Did anyone ever from SCLA say come do something for us?
AB: I can't remember. The only way I was doing it was through the Palmetto workshop and all that, but I don't remember.
RW: What did you hear about the State Library's interest in public, children's services to blacks through the state library and therefore the local public libraries? Did anyone mention what their attitude was?
AB: Probably did, but I can't remember. Because my memory just goes back to Mary Francis and when those title programs were going on.
RW: It was Ms. Walker who had a mixed reputation?
AB: She was a character.
RW: So you knew her?
AB: A long time ago.
RW: And, don't hold back here.
AB: Let us say that she had mixed feelings about the races.
RW: Come on, you've got to do better than that. I want to know exactly what you knew.
AB: Well, in all honesty now, I just knew that she had very definite prejudices. And I think that the black librarians probably felt this. I never, you know, mine was a speaking kind of acquaintance.
RW: At ALA, or when you came here?
AB: Well, if I came here, I don't ever remember. See, I believe she was head of school libraries.
RW: No, no. She was State Librarian.
AB: I mean that I think that she was State Librarian when I was coming down to the workshops.
RW: The late 40's...
AB: No, on her staff was Betty Callaham. And there was another one. Betty took ... whose place did Betty take?
RW: Took Ms. Walker's place.
AB: All right, Betty was the one who worked with the black librarians.
RW: Through the Palmetto Teacher's Association?
AB: Well, whatever. And I'm trying to dredge up, because I did something where I met Betty Callaham, and where Betty Callaham asked me to do some speaking, and whether it was that Palmetto Association, or whether it was someplace else. See Estelline Walker and I never hit it off. You know, maybe we shouldn't...
RW: Or possibly it could have been through SCLA because blacks began to attend SCLA in 63, 64.
AB: Well it was something that I met Betty Callaham and worked with her rather than the real head. She was the assistant. And it seemed to me, I may be wrong, you need to check out other black, local black librarians. But it seemed to me that Betty Callaham worked more with the black librarians than Estelline.
RW: Well, there were a few black branches, public library branches in South Carolina.
AB: Oh always, all over the country.
RW: Well, and here there were a few, Greenville, Columbia. Now did those folks come to your workshop?
AB: I honestly can't tell you. This was a long time ago. And I was doing workshops all over the country by then. And I guess I wasn't pigeon-holing in my brain, South Carolina, any more than any of those other southern states. See I remember doing workshops with teachers when they had to accept black children in their schools. That's what took me to Mississippi.
RW: That would have been the late 60's, early 70's.
AB: And I can't remember too much. You know it's been a long time, I'm an old lady now. And I believe sometimes you just put out of your mind unpleasant things, things that maybe had distressed you at the time. But that's when I met Betty Callaham and she, as I recall, was doing most of the work with those blacks in the black libraries. I just remember that I never cared for Estelline Walker in ALA.
RW: Because she snubbed you, or just didn't ...ignored you?
AB: It could have been that, but I doubt it. You see, because in ALA by that time I had -- it was in 61 or 62 -- I was president of the Children's Services Division. So, professionally, Estelline was beneath me. Well, you said tell it like it is.
RW: That's right. That's right.
AB: So, I would have had neither social or professional contact, or anything with her.
RW: Well, I have seen in the file at the State Library, some of the letters from those times about civil rights. Were the black librarians treated that way, you think?
AB: Yes, because she wasn't nice to Betty Callaham. And I can remember professionally we were all glad when Betty got the job, and things changed.
RW: You were here by then. You were in the state?
AB: Yes. And things changed you see. But Betty didn't have a bed of roses.
RW: I wouldn't think so. How did you finally make the decision to move here? How did this happen?
AB: University of South Carolina. Now you know when the library school was formed.
RW: 1970 or '71...
AB: So, immediately, you know, I'd been working for Wayne in Syracuse. Then of course, he went down to Kentucky, and this kind of thing, and Syracuse Library School just changed, and it wasn't anything I wanted to be associated with. So I didn't go back there, but Wayne kept track of me in New York. So I get a letter that he's going to set up the library school here. Going to be given a year and that was unheard of. And he's getting together this core faculty and he would like me to come down and work in the area of children's work.
RW: As a full-time faculty member?
AB: Yes. I had, it was 197...
RW: '70, '71?
AB: But I had too much equity when it came to retirement and this kind of thing in New York Public. New York Public would not give a leave of absence to do this. And when Wayne set up the library school at USC his dream was that it would be a center of subjects dealing with children and young people. He'd done a study of all the library schools around the country --they were moving into machinery rapidly. And he felt if he could build a strong curriculum that those people in the country who were still interested in age levels and this kind of thing, that they would come to library school at USC. Well that really never got off the ground you see, because when he retired, Bill ... Bill brought in the machines and all this kind of thing. But pressure was on him to do this ...relationship to the profession.
RW: Yes, probably even from the beginning it was a general program too.
AB: Yes, but that's when he asked me to come. That's when Louise Moses came down from Washington, remember?
RW: No, before my time, but,
AB: Oh, that's right. She came down and she sorta set up children's works, you know, subjects, and this kind of thing. Well, the second I retired, I began to get these little telephone calls from Wayne. You no longer have ties now, you see, you know with New York, why can't you come down here? Because I believe, and I say I believe because I'm trying to remember, that some of the children's subjects were taught by local children's librarians like adjuncts.
RW: Possibly so.
AB: I think so. And he still wanted a strong teacher and he knew my teaching skills from Syracuse. Well I wasn't ready to come down here. I retired in '74 and I was not ready to come down to South Carolina. So there was all this pressure. You see, by now, he knew my son. So now they sort of get together because he is saying, your mother, she's not down here to watch the grandchildren develop and grow. I think there was one ... Pam was born, maybe Chris was born. Well you can barely stand under this kind of concerted pressure. In the meantime, Buddy was working on Gordon because they had a very, very close relationship. Now Gordon was his stepfather, but they were like father and son. Gordon was a New Yorker by birth. He'd never lived outside of New York City. But he decided ... you see ... we visited. Oh, he liked it down here and you see, and the boy -- that's Mr. Baker -- was here, so he pressures me. New York City was changing. And living on two retirements and this kind of thing was taking all of our money and maintaining this house that we had. So all the pressures came to pass and I remember saying to Gordon, well I will not go down to South Carolina until I have sold our house up here. Because I'm not going into anymore apartments or anything of the sort. I'm going to take that money and buy a house down there. So now when, and you weren't selling houses overnight you see in 1979, 1980. So I settled back. I said I've got him now! And...
RW: You all were living in Queens?
AB: We could have never afforded a house in Manhattan, and I didn't like Brooklyn. But in Queens, I had a garden, you know, back yard and stuff. But anyway, I ... they called. I guess it was either Bill or Wayne, heard ... why didn't I come down there, and Buddy he's putting the pressure. Now Gordon's putting the pressure. New York's dirty, and New York is full of crime, and our taxes were exorbitant, and all this kind of thing. Well, anything can wear you down. But when I said to him, well if you sell this house ... and that telephone ... it was at ten o'clock in the morning. You know you don't need to be putting this down on tape, this isn't important.
RW: No, I want to know this.
AB: They called, at ten o'clock in the morning and I said to Buddy, now he's calling for you ... and Wayne ... whatnot. I will consider it when I sell this house. And don't keep bothering me and whatnot. Well Gordon was on the other telephone of course, a sort of conference call. And I hear him close the front door. Now we had a legitimate 2 family house. And that meant you had 2 full apartments with private entrance and this kind of thing. The basement was a completely finished basement, which I used for an office and to entertain and this kind of thing. I had had the attic converted into a kind of apartment for Buddy when he came to visit. But it was a legitimate 2-family house. Now there couldn't be a kitchen, but Buddy had his own bathroom and a great big room and then there was a bathroom in the basement, you know how they have these, powder room kind of a thing. In about half an hour I hear Gordon come back through the front door, and he has someone with him. So I looked out, and I realized it was a young man; he and his sister lived in an apartment on the same block. Because most of these families -- by that time houses had been converted to 2-family houses. But I heard him go upstairs. Now I had had some paneling done, so I figured Gordon was showing him the beautiful paneling and whatnot. But they come back downstairs and they come in the apartment -- I forget his name, said, "I think my sister and I would be interested in buying this house." I'll call her and on her lunch hour have her come over and look at the house and we could let you know by 3 o'clock. I....!! In the meantime, Buddy Baker is down here saying to me, "Mama I have a house, but we have to put a down payment on it." That was this house. I sold a house and bought a house in one day! It sounds like it's coming out of a storytelling, doesn't it? So, you know, I was meant to come down here. I was meant to come down here. And then of course as soon as I said, well, all right I'll move down here, then the [USC] library school began to set up a serious thing. And Dr. Holderman helped a great deal. He helped them a great deal. See I was over age ... I was retirement age. But it was Dr. Holderman who said she doesn't have to think about retirement age because she isn't getting any benefits. So we can have her as long as we want to. And we can work with it as long as we want to. He was the one, too, who okayed the business. See Frank Borkowsky had a great deal to do with this. I was not to have to work with children. And they didn't really want me to be working with the schools. I think they could see that the schools would absorb me, and I only had to do 20 things a year. All the departments on the campus began to ask and that seemed to be a legitimate thing to do. To work with College of Education, to work with Southern Studies and this kind of thing. Dr. Holderman said I should have time in the schedule to do something for Benedict and something for Orangeburg. Now Allen had lost its accreditation and this kind of thing and he was, he didn't ... I don't think he was over-enthusiastic about Allen, but I had to do something with Benedict. The way I worked around it was to set up a planning committee that you see me in.
RW: Now State has been, the folks down there have been responsive to you?
AB: Oh yes...I just don't have, with 20 things a year....20 lectures and this kind of thing. And to tell you the truth now, Bob... all right if I go once or twice, I do it more at home. And maybe I'm wrong, but I really feel my primary responsibility is really USC. So I will go there for lectures. Now the president of Benedict is on my neck. And of course Mary Frances is, and Cassandra Norman. See, I had them on my planning committee, but that current president, thinks, he's trying to get me to do more at Benedict. And I would, I like those young people and this kind of thing. But I have to think of my health and you know, I didn't retire from New York Public Library to work harder than I did for them. And it's really hard to say no to the likes of, say, Orangeburg or Benedict, even Allen. Now I think they would let me even work with Allen. But there is such a demand on our own campus. See, education would put me right on that faculty if there was any way they could.
RW: Teaching classes and all that?
AB: And so I have to say, "No, I won't come to this class." English Department, and you see when I had Catherine Hurst on my planning committee, then they felt they had a right to my time because Catherine was on my planning committee. And I loved working with all the black staff on the campus, you know, Grace McFadden and Willie Harriford and what not. So a lot of my time is taken.
RW: Well you've been a great boon to the reputation of the school and its....
AB: I didn't realize this. I honestly didn't. I've just got so interested in what the school was trying to do. And in my mind, well, if I can help it. And of course that first year, I got all involved through the University, with ITV and ETV and Susan Bridwell and all ... and thought, good Lord, this could be a full time thing. I've got to draw the line. They just called and asked Pam. Pam puts in -- and she should -- for everything coming down the pike, and I encourage her to do it for her own growth and everything else. But then these things all come back on her and she called me last night and she said, "Oh God, you've got to help me." And I said that's what I'm there for, and I really think it's my primary obligation, Bob, to work with the library school. And to help whoever, and Pat ... we want Pat to stay, but whether she will... and Pam. And Dan. But Dan doesn't need it. Dan has that school library situation under hand. Well, she had written a proposal or something, I think she had forgotten she had written it, for ITV. And someone over there called and said to her, we really have to get going on this and you could help me get the narrator. I had just heard one of your faculty named Augusta Baker narrate a story on ETV and we... see if we can get her as the narrator for your project. And she called me hysterical yesterday!
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