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Social Responsibilities: Ruth Brown Memorial Award
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The year 2000 marked the 50th anniversary of librarian Ruth Brown's courageous efforts to integrate public library service in the town of Bartlesville, Oklahoma. In honor of her life and achievements, the Oklahoma Library Association's Social Responsibilities Roundtable proudly commemorates Ruth Brown as one of Oklahoma's pioneer library spirits. In her honor we have established the Ruth Brown Memorial Award.

Samdy Tharp receives the 2013 Ruth Brown Award
Sandy Tharp (right) receives a giant check symbolizing the Ruth Brown Award from OLA President Sarah Robbins (center) and Social Responsibilities Roundtable Chair Kelley Riha (left) at the 2013 OLA Annual Conference

"Ruth Winifred Brown (1891 - 1975) became librarian of the Bartlesville Public Library in 1919. In 1946 she helped form the inter-racial Committee on the Practice of Democracy (COPD) to improve conditions for Bartlesville's African Americans. The group became the only affiliate of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The COPD recruited a Black doctor, conducted a health clinic, and organized a community clean-up with the help of members of the local YWCA and the AAUW Racial Problems Study Group. Brown became increasingly active and, in February 1950, she and two teachers from the segregated school - Mary Ellen Street and Clara Cooke - sat down at the lunch counter in Hull's Drug Store and asked to be served. Refused, they left. Days later, a Citizens' Committee charged Brown with circulating subversive materials - the Nation and the New Republic - from the library. A bitter battle over censorship of the library ensued, masking the real reason for the attack on Brown - her "accelerated" attitude toward integration. In spite of support from her board (also dismissed) and the Oklahoma and American Library Associations, Brown was fired by the City Commission on July 25, 1950. Brown and a colleague on the board unsuccessfully fought her firing all the way to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Although defeated, she was unrepentant. Even after her retirement (from Sterling, Colorado, Public Library) in 1961 at the age of 70, she chided the ALA for its failure to fight for the integration of public libraries. She remained a member of CORE until her death."

Louise Robbins, Associate Professor
School of Library and Information Studies
University of Wisconsin - Madison

Award Recipients

The recipients of the award are recognized at the annual Oklahoma Library Association meeting. These recipients and their projects are:

  • 1998 - Positive Tomorrows, an Oklahoma City organization that provides schooling and social services for homeless children, for its efforts to establish a library for the children they serve.
  • 1999 - Allied Arts and Humanities Council of Bartlesville and the Bartlesville Public Library for a three-year series of community education programs on issues related to the First Amendment.
  • 2000 - Anadarko Community Library in partnership with Silver Crest Manor Nursing Home and Laureate Alpha Kappa for an outreach program for seniors, which included book talks, discussion groups, and crafts.
  • 2001 - Oak Park Episcopal School for a six-month project in which the school purchased diversity books for Grades 3through 6 and the students wrote and published a literary anthology promoting tolerance.
  • 2002 - Spiro Public Library for its Child Fest, a summer day camp that provided children with cultural activities, story hours, and fun sessions on the use of the library and computer technology.
  • 2003 - Leland Wolf School and the Norman Police Department for the "Police Read to Educate and Improve Social Skills" (PRESS) program, in which local police officers mentor at the school by reading to and with an at-risk population, fostering a love of reading.
  • 2004 - University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
  • 2005 - Mabel C Fry Library, Yukon.
  • 2006 - St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Bartlesville.
  • 2007 - First Presbyterian Church of Chickasha and Chickasha Public Library, "Food & Fun Program".
  • 2008 - Lawton Public Library, "Guys & Girls Day Out" A program providing activities and and a place for elderly men and women to meet at the library to socialize and be a part of the local community.
  • 2009 -  
  • 2010 - Little Axe Community Center for computer classes outreach from Norman Public Library.
  • 2011 - Learn & Serve Organization at the Bokoshe Public School, Mrs. Ava Webster Community Library.  This group of 5th and 6th graders started a grassroots effort to open and operate a library in their hometown of Bokoshe, Okla.
  • 2012 - Pottawatomie County Literacy Program for "New Horizons", which provides basic literacy instruction to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) clients.
  • 2013 - Sandy Tharp, Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma, Perkins
  • 2014 - Mercy School Institute Reading Program, Edmond
  • 2015 - Norman High School program MADE Men, Men Aspiring to Distinction through Education. Nine week mentoring course, specifically for African-American males, that encourages leadership and bolsters college/career preparation.

Additional information:

Robbins, Louise S. "Racism and Censorship in Cold War Oklahoma: The Case of Ruth W. Brown and the Bartlesville Public Library," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 100 (July 1996): 19 - 48

Robbins, Louise S. The Dismissal of Miss Ruth Brown: Civil Rights, Censorship, and the American Library. University of Oklahoma Press, 2000.

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