Brown vs. Board of Education (1928)

Charleston Gazette
December 5, 1928

Negroes Have Right to Use Local Library, Is Supreme Court Ruling

Segregation of White and Negro Race in Public Schools Does Not Extend to Libraries, State Tribunal Holds, Reversing Decision of Kanawha County Circuit Court.

Segregation of the white and negro races in the public schools of West Virginia does not extend to public libraries, the state supreme court ruled yesterday in holding that "the governing body of a public library may not exclude persons therefrom on account of their color, race or previous condition of servitude."

The decision reversed the Kanawha county circuit court which had quashed an alternative write of mandamus negro citizens of Charleston had obtained against the board of education directing that body to show cause why it should not permit negroes the use of the Charleston public library. The court action followed adoption by the board of a resolution declaring the library as a part of the school system and designating the main library for the exclusive use of white citizens and a branch library for the exclusive use of Negroes.

Protest Discrimination.

The petitioners, Anderson H. Brown and others appealed to the state supreme court from a decision of Judge Arthur P. Hudson who held that the school board was within its rights in providing separate libraries. The Negroes claimed discrimination, contending the variety of volumes in the branch library was not as extensive as that available in the main one, but Judge Hudson ruled that it was the duty of the school board to provide adequate libraries for both races. Drawing a distinction between a "school library" and a "public library" the supreme court decision written by Judge M. O. Litz, held that "the mere designation of a board of education as the agency to establish, maintain and control a public library does not convert it into a school library or make it a part of the public school system.

Must Not Be Excluded.

"It is sought to justify the action of the board of education also on the ground that the governing body of the public library may in the exercise of the police power of the state limit its use to 'white school children and white citizens.' The principle relied on has been applied by the courts in approving rules and regulations by railroad companies providing separate coaches for the white and colored passengers, and in other cases.

"Granting that the board of education may provide separate departments for white and colored persons in the library building, we do not think it is vested with such regulatory powers either under the statute or under the police power of the state as would justify it in excluding colored persons therefrom. The petition, in our opinion, states a case for relief. The ruling of the circuit court is therefore reversed and the case remanded."

Library Not Part of School

Judge Litz quoted provisions of the state constitution and the state code providng for separate schools for white and Negro children and also reviewed at length the various moves of the school board in designating separate libraries. Declaring that the circuit court adopted the contention of the school board that the library was part of the school system, the supreme court decision said, "it cannot be said that the legislature intended to establish a school library in the passage of the several acts providing for the establishment and maintenance of a public library." Defining a "public library" as one "to which the general public has free access," Judge Litz, in summarizing the contention of the board asserted, "It is said, however, that the maintenance of a public library for the joint use of white and colored citizens would be inconsistent with the public policy of the state, established by its laws, institutions, customs, practices and traditions, of separating the races; and that in keeping with this policy the legislative acts under consideration should be construed so as to uphold the action of the board in denying to negroes the use of the Charleston public library. In other words, it is contended that the legislature meant to provide for the establishment of a school library, which should be under the control of the board of education as a part of the public school system, and not a public library as the statutes declare."

For "Greatest Number."

That argument, the court held, was answered by the wording of the statute, which provided that each library established under it "shall be free for the use of the inhabitants of the municipality where located, subject to reasonable rules and regulations as the library board may adopt and publish, in order to render the use of said library of greatest benefit to the greatest number."

"We would not be justified on account of public policy," the court held, "in construing a plain statute to mean something other than its plain language imports."

African Americans

West Virginia Archives and History