OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A deep dive of city records requires a parting of paper seas in the Special Collections and Research section of the main branch downtown.
The towering shelves house meeting minutes, building blueprints, the unofficial made official, according to Executive Director Larry White.
“The community is the community,” he points out. “We serve all of the community.”
It was on one such dive that his team of historians came face to face with a different era.
The minutes from a 1921 Library Board meeting that set in stone a segregation policy that lasted more than 40 years.
Reading from the actual minutes from the meeting, “That negroes be excluded from the use of the Central Library…”
“It was discussed that that was a better approach going forward,” continues White.
It was later in 1921 that Dunbar Library opened in a Slaughter’s Hall storefront then moved to a larger building on 4th Street in 1926.
The old Carnegie Library continued serving the city’s white citizens, Dunbar its citizens of color.
Explaining past reasoning, White allows, “I think it was probably more a reaction to the Tulsa race riots and the general opinions that were part of society at the time.”
The research came to light as the old Dunbar branch recognized a century, it’s building a long-ago victim of urban renewal, but its legacy bared to a modern interpretation.
“There is astonishment. There is also a certain degree of shame,” he admits.
Researchers, to librarians, to executive staff all agreed that publicizing the old mistakes would prove healthy for today’s public to know about.
“By studying what happened, we learn the value of diversity. We learn the value of all of the community,” White said.
An exhibit that will travel to every city library branch this year, starting at the Ralph Ellison Library, represents a square look at history, not papered over.
For more information on the Dunbar Exhibit or the Metropolitan Library System, go to www.facebook.com/metrolibrary or www.metrolibrary.org/about-us/mission-history/history.