Monday, February 22, 2010

The girl who broke the library rules

Sometimes, en route to one story, I stumble on another. That happened last week, when I was interviewing Vanessa Work Ramseur for a piece I'm writing about Kathryn Stockett's "The Help," the bestselling novel that explores the lives of black maids and the white women who employed them in early-'60s Mississippi.
The book was written by a white woman. Ramseur is African-American, and her mother once worked as a domestic for families in Davidson. So she had some interesting things to say about "The Help." To explain them, she was telling me about growing up in Cornelius in the 1960s, not far from where I live now.
When she was young, she told me, Cornelius's library was whites-only. Black readers were supposed to use the book mobile.
From a young age, Ramseur, 56, was an avid reader. But even when she was young, she understood, at some level, the stupidity of a policy that said her books couldn't mix with white people's books.
And so, in her own small way, she protested. More than once, when her books were due, she rode her bike to the white library on Catawba Avenue and stuck them into the slot. She still remembers the librarian coming out the door to scold her as she sped away on her bike: Vanessa, you know better than that! I'm going to tell your daddy!
When Ramseur got her master's degree, she returned to Cornelius's library to show the woman her diploma -- in library science.
Ramseur is now a senior manager for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg library. She still remembers the librarian's response when she showed her her master's in library science: You gave me so much trouble. I should have known you'd be a librarian.


Kate said...

Love this story! Thanks for sharing!

spinelabel said...

I also enjoyed this story. The little girl had some spirit. I'm glad the librarian had a heart too, finally. She probably thought she was protecting the girl by advising her not to rock the boat.

Norma said...

Excellent article! Just goes to show that where there is a will there is always a way!