Wednesday 17 July 2013

Cross Burned on Librarian's Lawn

Montgomery native Juliette Hampton Morgan (1914-1957) was a librarian and civil rights advocate known for

Juliette Morgan courtesy

How did a quiet, polite librarian end up with a cross burning on her front lawn?  It all started with a letter.

Juliette Hampton Morgan was born in 1914 in Alabama.  Her roots were political.  Her mother Lila Morgan, was the descendant of a Confederate general and South Carolina governor named Wade Hampton.  Her father, Frank Morgan, was the grandson of a Georgia Senator and the son of the Cleburne County mayor.  Not to be outdone, Juliette joined the Democratic Club in 1936, supporting Roosevelt's economic reforms, after she saw the human suffering wrought by the Great Depression.  She supported anti-lynching laws and abolishing the poll tax.

Wade Hampton courtesy

Juliette attended the University of Alabama where she received a BA and MA in English.  Her degrees were put to good use when she was hired at the local Carnegie Library in 1942.  Soon she was promoted to research superintendent of the Montgomery City-County Public Library.

Miss Morgan came under scrutiny by neighbors, friends and colleagues when she joined an interracial prayer group, violating Montgomery's laws.  As white churches refused to host the group, it was forced to meet in black churches.

Juliette took the bus to work each day as she couldn't drive a car due to panic attacks.  As she rode the bus, she would watch blacks pay the same ten-cent fare that she did, but not receive equal treatment:  the bus driver called them names, threw their change at them or even drove away without letting them board first though the back door.  Tired of the abuse, Juliette pulled the cord when she saw the woman left in the bus' wake; in fact, she did this several times.

Segregated bus courtesy

In 1952, refusing to support the status quo, Miss Morgan wrote a letter to the Montgomery Advertiser explaining that blacks would not tolerate the abuse any longer.  Many of the librarian's friends, colleagues and neighbours shunned her.  Mayor William Gayle urged the library's board of trustees to fire her, but they refused, suggesting instead that Miss Morgan not write any more letters.  She complied.

In the meantime, Juliette's alma mater accepted its first black student which led to rioting all over the state capital.  On January 5, 1957, Buford Boone, the editor of the Tuscaloosa News, urged the White Citizens Council to stop supporting the violence.  In response, Juliette wrote Mr. Boone a letter of congratulations, which was published in the Tuscaloosa News.  Mayor Gayle, a member of the White Citizen's Council, vowed to get the librarian fired, but again the board of trustees refused.

White Citizen's Council courtesy

Citizens of Montgomery protested by tearing up their library cards.  On July 15, 1957, someone burned a cross on Juliette Morgan's lawn.  The next day, she resigned and was later found dead of an overdose of sleeping pills.  Many Montgomery residents attended the librarian's funeral, including those who had remained silent, or shunned her, during her letter-writing campaign.

On August 13, 1962, the Montgomery Library was peacefully integrated.  In 2005, it was renamed the Juliette Hampton Morgan Memorial Library.

Note:  Read Journey Towards Justice:  Juliette Hampton Morgan and the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Mary Stanton.

Juliette Hampton Morgan Memorial Library courtesy

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