A New York City Teacher Recalls an Effort to Integrate a Mississippi Library

Sandra Adickes was a New York City high school teacher who worked during the summers of 1963 and 1964 at "freedom schools" in Virginia and Mississippi. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organized these freedom schools as a way to give African-American students a better education than that provided by the segregated and inadequate public schools available to them in Mississippi. In this excerpt, Adickes describes her students' efforts to integrate the public library in Hattiesburg, Mississippi during the summer of 1964.

Adickes: We weren't supposed to take these kinds of actions, but I mean, so, it must have come from the students because I would not have deliberately gone against the policies of the administration, but they wanted to do something, so they considered it. I mean, it came from them. They considered a number of actions . . .

Maybe they considered one or two others, but what made them decide eventually on the library was that it was appropriate. Why shouldn't they as students be able to use the library? And secondly, they didn't perceive a great deal of danger that they would be attacked there by mobs in the library. So, I think it was the last day of classes, we went. At that time, you know, Palmer's Crossing was a suburb. We had to get on a bus and go downtown, and we stopped. We went to the library, and when we walked in, there was a young woman sitting at the desk. And this is the first time in my life I had actually seen this happen. Her eyes rolled to the back of her head when she saw us come in, [laughter] the six students and me. And we went up to the desk and the students said, "We want to get library cards." And she immediately called her supervisor who came down and started berating the students. And I didn't say a word, because I didn't think that was my place, and the students were very polite, but very insistent. And every time she would give them a reason for not giving them library cards, they would say, "Well, we don't see why, if anybody else uses this library, we can't, also." She, at one point, mentioned the Council, which I understood to mean the White Citizens' Council, would close the library down if she issued cards to the black students. And they would not give it up. They were just very polite, but they were very insistent [and] felt it [was] their right to have library cards. And finally, when she said that--. Oh, she would say things like, "Will you close your mouths and open your minds?" And they weren't--. She was doing most of the talking. And I imagine she was pretty scared. She must have been really scared of what was happening because it was clearly--. It was not going to be a normal day in the library. So, eventually she said, "Well, if you won't leave, I'm going to call the police." So, then, I said to the students, "What do you want to do?" And they said, "We'll stay." So, we sat down and the police came. About twenty minutes later, the police came and ordered everybody out of the library. Everybody, including us. So, we left because the library was closed. Closed for inventory.

Source | "An Oral History with Sandra Adickes," 19 October 1999, Mississippi Oral History Program of the University of Southern Mississippi, http://digilib.usm.edu/u?/coh,296.
Creator | Civil Rights in Mississippi Digital Archive
Interviewer | Stephanie Scull Millet
Interviewee | Sandra Adickes
Rights | Used by permission of University of Southern Mississippi Libraries.
Item Type | Oral History
Cite This document | Civil Rights in Mississippi Digital Archive, “A New York City Teacher Recalls an Effort to Integrate a Mississippi Library,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 2, 2014, http://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/975.