Irene Dobbs Jackson: First black citizen to receive a library card

Source: WGCL

In the early 1900's, activists in Atlanta's black community said it was time they had access to the city's library or one of their own.

"The money was appropriated in 1904 by Andrew Carnegie, but it took them until 1921 to actually build the library and open it up."

And so the Auburn Avenue Branch Library came to be.

"Books grew in importance to the black community in large part due to the efforts of the staff at the Auburn branch."

Inside the Auburn Branch were librarians eager to make this a hub for their community. One of them, Annie McPheeters who made it her mission to bring the library to life.

Librarian John Wright says that included adult literacy programs, books and even theater.

"Annie McPheeters would go on the radio and talk about things that were happening at the Auburn branch," said McPheeters.

All of this leading up to a movement of long over due change.

"Without the Auburn Branch, without Annie McPheeters, Irene Jackson may never have been in a position to demand a library card."

Irene Dobbs Jackson was a first.

"It was pretty bold and she said it was very much out of character for her to be that bold. She said she was terrified when she went in but she did it anyway."

Jackson, the daughter of activist John Wesley Dobbs and the mother of Atlanta's first black mayor Maynard Jackson studied in France and had free access to check out books and felt she should be able to do the same at home.

"The community was so dynamic, but the society at the time was separate."

In 1959, black people could read in the Central Library's basement but couldn't check out books.

"The reality that were there, the desire in the black community to be equal and to participate and to have access to the same resources."

Her request and accomplishment was published in the newspaper but unfortunately followed by consequence.

"People drove by her house and yelled at her and they called her on the phone at all hours , what do you want a library card for? Blacks don't know how to read."

The impact of Jackson's actions were everlasting.

"She challenged the system she went in and said I want a library card they went back and had a heated conversation and they came back and gave her a form and said fill out this form and she filled it out and they said we'll give you a call and she said yeah right."

It was a couple days after putting in that application on May 19, 1959 that the board approved Irene Jackson's library card, making her the first black person in Atlanta to have one.

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