In 1962, Harold Michael Harvey was a 12-year-old with an insatiable appetite for reading books. He liked baseball and rocks. He loved reading books about baseball and rocks.
When he had read all the books in his mother’s library at home, and in the library at Eugenia Hamilton Elementary School, he asked his mom if she would take him to the library on Washington Avenue. He wanted to check out a book on Willie Mays, one of his favorite baseball players.
Harvey’s mother, Elaine, was an avid reader too. She was happy that the second of her two sons had a passion for reading books that she could not satisfy.
There was a minor problem with Harvey’s request. A library card was required to check out a book at Washington Memorial Library. Since Harvey’s mom, like Harvey, was a Negro, she did not have a library card issued by Washington Memorial Library. She was ineligible to receive one because of the de jure segregated policy of the library.
This library opened in 1923, five years, and 20 days before Elaine Harvey was born. She grew up to become a school teacher, but not wanting to violate the law, she never attempted to enter the Washington Memorial Library.
She informed Harvey that the only place he could check out a book was at the Amelia Hutchings Memorial Library.
Hutchings Memorial or some off-shoot of it had been servicing the Black Macon community since January 8, 1928, eleven months before Elaine Harvey was born. The same year that the Southern Library Association passed a resolution during its convention in Biloxi, Mississippi, that “library service to Negroes should be a part of every library system” ( Middle Georgia and the Approach of Modernity).
In 1930, a survey conducted by Louis Shores, Librarian at Fisk University, one of the leading historically black colleges and universities educating Negroes, concluded, “Like other segregated libraries, the black library at Macon bore the harsh social and economic consequences of Jim Crow segregation” (Ibid).
Shores’ study further stated Macon had “one of the largest black populations in the group of cities offering public library services to Negroes. The segregated library at Macon reported one of the smallest collections (700 volumes) and annual city appropriations ($500) of any segregated library in the group.”
In January 1952, Three months after Harvey was born, a group of Macon’s leading Black citizens led by Dentist D. T. Walton, requested the city either allow Negroes to use the Washington Memorial Library or that a new library be built for Macon’s Black community.
The Macon City Council rejected the notion of Blacks using the Washington Memorial Library. After all, it sits on Washington Place, the home of former Macon Mayor James H. R. Washington, where according to the Washington Memorial Library website, “grand social occasions” were held. The following year (1953), the Amelia Hutchings Memorial Library opened at 151 Madison Street.
Nine years after Blacks received their public-funded library, Harvey’s mom took him to the Amelia Hutchings Memorial Library, where he obtained his first library card and checked out a book about Willie Mays.
In its heyday before the American Civil War, Washington Place entertained British author William Makepeace Thackeray known for his satirical portrayal of British life in the novel Vanity Fair. Thackeray was in Macon to deliver a reading from his prodigious volume of work.
This year during Black History Month, the little boy who could not check-out a book on Willie Mays at Washington Memorial Library in 1962, is invited to the library as part of the library’s Author Series to read from his latest book, Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance.
FROM THE DESK OF CYNTHIA HARVEY
Harold Michael Harvey is the author of Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. He is a Past President of the Gate City Bar Association. He is the recipient of Gate City’s R. E. Thomas Civil Rights Award, which he received for his pro bono representation of Black college students arrested during Freaknik celebrations in the mid to late 1990s. An avid public speaker contact him at email@example.com.