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The Scarlet & Black

Burling highlights Black Library

By Mario Macias

To start off Black History Month, Concerned Black Students (CBS) and Grinnell College Libraries hosted a Wednesday-Nights-at-Burling event commemorating the Black Library and its past. “We want the local Grinnell community to know about its history,” librarian Phil Jones said.

Rebecca Stuhr, Librarian, discusses the history of the Black LIbrary in Burling on Wednesday as part of an event celebrating its evolution – Avery Rowlison

Jones and fellow librarians Catherine Rod and Rebecca Stuhr began “Black Library As History” with an overview of student protests against racial segregation on campus during the seventies and recent student responses honoring that history. The event then concluded with recitations and personal accounts performed by students.

In November of 1971, a group of students, organized by CBS, occupied Burling Library—which at the time housed Grinnell’s administration—to protest the lack of Black inclusion and to advocate for representation within the library collections. Concerned Black Students presented a series of demands along with a draft of their “Black Manifesto.”
Rosal Chavira ’11, one of the leaders of CBS this semester, read the Black Manifesto aloud on Wednesday evening. The document addresses the “racist atmosphere” of the campus during its time and calls for institutional support from Grinnell for the “survival of all Black students”—the immediate creation of a Black Library as the primary implementation. “This was a non-violent takeover,” Rod said. “President Leggett agreed on their demands and no reprisals were needed.”

The first installation of the Black Library was where the Smith Collection is now located. Consisting of about fifty books, Rod recalls, the Black Library was then renovated in February of 1972 when CBS occupied Burling again, only this time within what was called the Twentieth Century Room.

In 1982, Stuhr helped relocate the Black Library to where it is currently placed, on the second floor of Burling. Culled from standard bibliographies, African-American journals, collections of primary sources and documentary volumes, says Stuhr, the Black Library now functions as a rotating collection, transiting its contents across all Burling collections while maintaining essential volumes within the Black Library shelves. In time, the creation of the Black Library prompted the installations of other specific collections such as the Latino collection.

In November 2006, students from CBS and the Young, Gifted, and Black Gospel Choir (YGB) commemorated the Black Library and its history with a procession into Burling where they camped and celebrated with music, food and discussion.

The second student response honoring the institutional history of the Black Library was led by Latona Giwa ’09 and Courtney Moore ’11. In December of 2009, Giwa and Moore performed a “site-specific” dance to a montage of music blending interview excerpts from former Dean Waldo “Wally” Walker on the 1971 protest. Site-specific dance “remembers a space,” said Shawn Womack, Theatre.

After reviewing the inception and continuous changes within the Black Library, the floor opened up to audience members to express their own commemorations of the library. Que Newbill ’11 read from the poetry of Raymond Patterson, Bill Rudolph read from the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, Stuhr from the poetry of Grinnell alumna Irma McClaurin. “Students now are in the process of their own making,” Kesho Scott, Sociology said, “only they know what the next vision will be.”

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