Historical figures

The players referenced in Alabama Story

Emily Wheelock Reed

“enraged Alabama segregationists by allowing a book about a fuzzy white rabbit marrying a fuzzy black rabbit onto the shelves of the state’s central library….

The confrontation came as blacks were fighting to be allowed in public libraries throughout the South and a segregationist in Florida was demanding that ”The Three Little Pigs” be removed from library shelves because the pigs were depicted in different colors. Such disputes, mirroring the struggle for access to schools and public libraries, were widely covered in the press.

In Ms. Reed’s case, the book in question was ‘The Rabbits’ Wedding,’ written and illustrated by Garth Williams and published by Harper & Brothers in 1958. The book, which described a moonlit wedding attended by all the animals of the forest, was intended for children 3 to 7 years of age.

The book was attacked by The Montgomery Home News, a publication of the Montgomery, Ala., chapter of the White Citizens Council, on the ground that it promoted racial integration.

In response, Ms. Reed, who was the director of the Alabama Public Library Service Division, which lent books to local libraries throughout the state, ordered the book to be put on the agency’s reserve shelves. This meant that local librarians visiting Montgomery could get the book by requesting it, but could not find it on the open shelves.

Harpers issued a statement from Mr. Williams saying the book had ‘no political significance.’

‘I was completely unaware that animals with white fur, such as white polar bears and white dogs and white rabbits, were considered blood relations of white human beings,’ Mr. Williams said.

He added that his tale of rabbits ‘was not written for adults, who will not understand it because it is only about a soft, furry love and has no hidden messages of hate.’

Ms. Reed said at the time that she liked the book and that her action was not tantamount to banning it. In an interview with The New York Times, she said that some local libraries in Alabama continued to put the book on their open shelves but that the state agency had some difficulty with it.

State Senator E. O. Eddins of Marengo County, who led the fight against Mr. Williams’s book, said Ms. Reed had refused to answer when he asked her if she believed in racial integration. She said this had nothing to do with running the library service.

A measure was then introduced in the Alabama Legislature to require the state library chief to be a native of Alabama and a graduate of the University of Alabama or Auburn University. That would have disqualified Ms. Reed, who was born in Ashville, N.C. But in 1960 she left Alabama to become coordinator of adult services for the Washington, D.C., library system.

Emily Wheelock Reed grew up in Indiana and graduated from Indiana University. She worked in libraries in Detroit, Hawaii and Louisiana and taught library science at the University of Florida before becoming Alabama’s library director in 1959.

After six years with the Washington library system, Ms. Reed moved to Baltimore, where she was coordinator of adult services at the Enoch Pratt Free Library until she retired in 1977.

She was cited for her work in Alabama by the American Library Association, and this year received the scroll of honor from the Freedom to Read Foundation.”

New York Times

The Freedom to Read Foundation Roll of Honor Citation:

Steadfast in your commitment to intellectual freedom, you set an example for us all by your 1959 defense of the children’s classic, The Rabbits’ Wedding.

THANK YOU, Emily, for refusing to give in to the segregationist pressure of the Alabama State Senate. Your remarkable stand occurred at a time and place where such action involved rare courage and personal and professional sacrifice.

Thank you for your defense of the intellectual rights of children. In this, too, you proved to be ahead of your time.

Thank you for standing firm when attacked again in 1959, this time for holding Martin Luther King, Jr.’s book, Stride Toward Freedom, in the state library’s collection. You would not apologize for disseminating an American Library Association “notable books” list on which this book appeared.

Thank you, Emily, for being a charter member, and constant supporter, of the Freedom to Read Foundation. Thank you for over sixty years of continued membership in the American Library Association.

Thank you, Emily, for embodying our commitment to the freedom to read.

Candace D. Morgan, President
Judith F. Krug, Executive Director

Chicago, IL
July 2000

Garth Williams

“Williams illustrated more than eighty books in the course of his life, including “Charlotte’s Web”; “The Cricket in Times Square,” by George Selden; “Bedtime for Frances,” by Russell Hoban (Williams rightly suggested that Frances be a badger, not a vole); several collaborations with his friend Margaret Wise Brown (the author of “Goodnight Moon”), including the weird and wonderful “Mister Dog” and “The Little Fur Family”; and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series, which Nordstrom commissioned him to re-illustrate in its entirety. Williams’s illustrations for those and other books are an indelible part of twentieth-century American childhood: Wilbur joyfully leaping off a manure pile; Laura Ingalls frolicking on the sod-house roof in Plum Creek; Stuart sailing his ship across the Central Park Pond; Crispin’s Crispian smoking his pipe; Harry Cat, Tucker Mouse, and Chester Cricket shooting the breeze at the newsstand in Times Square. His animals are at once fur-faced and contemplative, inhabiting a tender realm whose coziness comes from the joys of the natural world and of unconventional friendships.” (read more in The New Yorker)

Senator E.O. Eddins

(the inspiration for Senator E.W. Higgins)

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