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Wayne Wiegand, noted historian, featured during Library’s Author Talk Series on May 1

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Birmingham Public Library (Photo, Cody Owens)
By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
Wayne and Shirley Wiegand (Provided Photo)

Dr. Wayne Wiegand has written and lectured about libraries in almost every capacity as a historian and academic. His recently published book is no different, but his focus covers new ground — how African American children desegregated libraries.

Wiegand recently published “The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South: Civil Rights and Local Activism.” He will discuss the book Tuesday, May 1 at the Birmingham Public Library Central as part of Author Talk series, which will begin at 6 p.m. at the Central Library on the main floor.

“Desegregation” is the narrative of the children who helped integrate public libraries in the South. The book builds on Wiegand’s previous work, “Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library.”

The research he did for that book unearthed information for the new book. He asked his wife – who is a lawyer and legal educator – if she’d co-write ‘Desegregation.’

Wiegand’s wife, Shirley Wiegand, helped with the “legal talk” in many of the federal court cases they researched, he said.

“This is not a legal book,” he said. “This is about the kids who walked into the libraries to desegregate them.”

Many of the children were as young as nine, but the most were teenagers, said Wiegand, who retired as F. William Summers Professor of Library and Information Studies and Professor of American Studies at Florida State University in 2010.

He was surprised to learn that children desegregated libraries.

“When the Hattiesburg kids protested in Hattiesburg, MS, they went in the library four days after the bodies of Goodman, Cheney and Schewerner were found,” he said. “You look at that and think, ‘wow!’”

James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schewerner, were three activists abducted and murdered in Neshoba County, Mississippi, in June 1964 in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. They had been working with the Freedom Summer campaign by attempting to register African Americans to vote.

Wiegand’s goal is for readers to realize the contribution children made to the history of American libraries.

“Because these libraries weren’t being visited by people like Martin Luther King, the national media didn’t follow library desegregation efforts,” he said. “So, the kids have not been recognized in Civil Rights literature. This is kind of a hidden chapter in Civil Rights history . . . there was violence done to African American who protested, they suffered jail time, they were beaten and bitten by dogs. Many stared at the barrel of a shotgun when they walked out of the library.”

Birmingham is the 20th stop on Wiegand’s book tour and while traveling he spoke with a number of Foot Soldiers from the Civil Rights Movement.

Remarks will also be made by Judge U.W. Clemon, Shelly Millender, and Jeff Drew on behalf of his mother Addine “Deenie” Drew, whose activism helped lead to the desegregation of Birmingham Public Libraries in 1963.