The Dismissal of Miss Ruth Brown

 

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The Dismissal Of Miss Ruth Brown:
Civil Rights, Censorship, and the American Library

By Louise S. Robbins

University of Oklahoma Press
256 pages. ISBN: 0-8061-3163-2 Cloth $29.95 Published February 2000

In 1950 Ruth W. Brown, librarian at the Bartlesville, Oklahoma, Public Library, was summarily dismissed from her job after thirty years of exemplary service, ostensibly because she had circulated subversive materials. In truth, however, Brown was fired because she had become active in promoting racial equality and had helped form a group affiliated with the Congress of Racial Equality.

     Louise S. Robbins tells the story of the political, social, economic, and cultural threads that became interwoven in a particular time and place, creating a strong web of opposition. This combination of forces ensnared Ruth Brown and her colleagues-for the most part women and African Americans-who championed the cause of racial equality.

     This episode in a small Oklahoma town almost a half-century ago is more than a disturbing local event. It exemplifies the McCarthy era, foregrounding those who labored for racial justice, sometimes at great cost, before the civil rights movement. In addition, it reveals a masking of concerns that led even Brown's allies to obscure the cause of racial integration for which she fought. Relevant today, Ruth Brown's story helps us understand the matrix of personal, community, state, and national forces that can lead to censorship, intolerance, and the suppression of individual rights.

"Louise Robbins has written a fascinating study of an obscure event that illuminates the atmosphere of an era. There is a huge literature on what we know as 'McCarthyism,' but in this story of a courageous librarian in a small town in Oklahoma that phenomenon, with all its ramifications, is brought into sharp focus. The Dismissal of Miss Ruth Brown is not only an important piece of history, but it tells us something about our own time, and how what Robbins calls 'skirmishes,' whether won or lost, are necessary preludes to significant social change."-Howard Zinn, author of The Twentieth Century: A People's History

"The chief conclusion of The Dismissal of Miss Ruth Brown is that Bartlesville was an example of the communities that were willing to deny or ignore public racist practices and to concentrate on censorship and use it as a tool to destroy any person perceived to believe in racial equity. It is a balanced presentation of an important case that has been buried for over forty years. The Dismissal of Miss Ruth Brown will be of interest to the civil rights and civil liberties communities as well as to librarians and historians."-Hannah Atkins, the first African American woman to be elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives (1968 - 1980), and Oklahoma Secretary of State (1987 - 1991)

Louise S. Robbins, Associate Professor and Director, School of Library and Information Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, is the author of Censorship and the American Library: The American Library Association's Response to Threats to Intellectual Freedom, 1939-1969.

 

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