Josey, E. J. 1924—
E. J. Josey 1924—
Librarian, activist, author
When E. J. Josey retired in the spring of 1995 from his appointment at the University of Pittsburgh School of Library and Information Science, Josey enjoyed accolades from several hundred friends, former students, and librarian colleagues for his nearly four decades of achievement as a champion of civil rights and excellence.
Josey served as one of only three African American presidents of the American Library Association (ALA) in its 129-year history; founded the Black Caucus of the ALA (BCALA)in 1970, and desegregated state library associations in the South with a successful ALA resolution in 1964. Josey’s book, The Black Librarian in America, which he edited in 1970 and revised in 1994, won praise as the first to examine exclusively the subject of African American librarianship. Throughout his career, Josey struggled tirelessly for the recruitment, education, and hiring of people of color into library service to redress traditional and continuing underrepresentation in the profession.
On the international scene, Josey led the fight in the 1980s to maintain sanctions on South Africa in protest of the country’s former apartheid system of official segregation and inequality. Finally he advised a number of emergent countries in Africa on topics relating to library science. “E. J. Josey has a world-class mind and an international outlook; he is at home with people of all races, ethnic groups, and religions. Yet … we will find nowhere in America, a leader more dedicated to Afro-Centric concerns,” declared Congressman Major R. Owens in a foreword to the collection of essays, E. J. Josey: An Activist Librarian.
Born in Norfolk, Virginia on January 20, 1924, E. J. Josey was the eldest of five children. In his early childhood Josey attended a segregated school. Growing up in Port Smith, Virginia, Josey imagined he might become a teacher and developed an interest in music. Graduating at age 16 from Norcom High School in Port Smith, Josey studied the organ at Hampton Institute, now Hampton University, under Ernest G. Hayes, one of the first African Americans to become a fellow of the American Guild of Organists.
Josey played the organ part-time for churches until the outbreak of World War II, when he was drafted and served in the U.S. Army, from 1943 to 1946. After
Born January 20, 1924, in Norfolk, VA; son of Willie Josey and Frances Bailey Josey; married Dorothy Johnson (divorced); children: Elaine Jacqueline. Education: Howard University, AB, 1949; Columbia University, MA, 1950; State University of Albany (SUNY), MSLS, 1953.
Librarian, Free Library of Philadelphia, 1953–54; instructor, social science, Savannah State College, 1954–55; librarian and assistant professor, Delaware State College, 1955–59; librarian and associate professor, Savannah State College, 1959–66; New York State Education Department, New York State Library, Albany, New York, associate in academic and research libraries, 1966–68, chief, bureau of academic and research libraries, 1968–76, chief, bureau of specialist library services, 1976–86; professor, School of Library and Information Science, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1986–1995.
Cofounder, Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA), 1970; ALA, president, 1984–85. Editor, author of numerous publications, including The Black Librarian in America, 1970, The Black Librarian in America Revisited, 1994.
Member: Savannah branch, Albany branch, NAACP, executive board, 1960–86, president, Albany branch, 1984–85; ALA, president, 1984–85; American Civil Liberties Union, 1966-; Freedom to Read Foundation, board of directors.
Awards: ALA Black Caucus, Award for Distinguished Service to Librarianship, 1979; Distinguished Alumni Award for Contributions to Librarianship, School of Library and Information Science, SUNY, 1981; Africa Librarianship Award, Kenya Library Association, 1984; President’s Award, NAACP, 1986; American Library Association, Equality Award, 1991. Four honorary doctorates.
Addresses: Office—School of Library and Information Science, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260.
being discharged on March 12, 1946, he attended Howard University’s School of Music. Josey graduated from Howard University in 1949 and finished a master’s program in history at Columbia University in December of 1950. It was after graduating from Columbia, while he was working in the journalism library at the University, that Josey grew inspired to a career in librarianship.
After gaining his library science degree in 1953 from the State University of New York (SUNY) Library School in Albany, New York, Josey began working in the field and waging the battle against segregation in libraries. His first post was in Philadelphia as a librarian in the Central Library of the Free the Library of Philadelphia. One year later Josey left Philadelphia and began teaching social sciences as an instructor at the Savannah State College in Georgia. The following year found Josey in Delaware, as director of the Delaware State College Library in Dover. When Josey returned to Savannah State College to lead the library in 1959, he began his lifelong effort to desegregate—and sometimes to lead—the library profession.
The story of Josey’s struggle and ascension within the ALA really began in Georgia in 1960, when the Georgia Library Association denied him membership. Josey then was more of an outsider than an insider: he was known in ALA circles for impassioned speeches on social issues, which the predominant wisdom at the time held as beyond the scope of librarians. Josey had joined the ALA as a library science student in 1952 and attended every meeting since 1957. Through persistence and perseverance, however, Josey eventually passed two resolutions that effectively desegregated the four officially segregated Southern state library associations.
During the ALA Conference in the summer of 1964, held during the same week that President Lyndon Johnson signed the historic and far-reaching Civil Rights Act of 1964 (the fifth passed since 1866), the ALA ostracized segregated state associations from official functions. In 1965 the state associations desegregated their membership policies and admitted African Americans, including E. J. Josey himself, to membership.
While serving as director of the Savannah State College Library, Josey made the institution into more of a center of intellectual life for the campus community. In 1962 Josey left Georgia for New York State, where he served in the library until 1986. As chief of two bureaus in the Division of Library Development at the New York State Library in Albany, New York, from 1966 to 1986, Josey designed resource systems and developed the New York State Interlibrary Loan program (NYSILL). He also edited the trade journal, Bookmark, which examined important issues facing librarians in New York. While at the New York State Library Josey published nine books and approximately 300 articles, according to Robert B. Ford, Jr., in an essay in the book, E. J. Josey: An Activist Librarian.
The publication in 1970 of Josey’s pioneering work, The Black Librarian in America, provided an extensive look for the first time into the conditions for African Americans in the library profession. In the volume, Josey noted the gains African Americans had made in the 1960s but catalogued the problems still faced. In subsequent conversations and in teaching, Josey received broad praise for his work from other African American librarians and library students. Concluding that African American librarians finally began the 1970s with “a dream deferred,” Josey took action.
In 1970 Josey helped organize the Black Caucus of the ALA. “Black Librarians are especially concerned about the effects of institutional racism, poverty, the continued lack of educational, employment, and promotional opportunities upon blacks and other minorities,” the founding Statement of Concern read in 1970, according to Lisa Biblo in an essay in the 1994 book, The Black Librarian in America Revisited.
The Black Caucus defended its members in court cases against discrimination they suffered, and built coalitions with diverse ALA groups, including the Asian American Caucus, the Chicano Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table, and the National Association to Promote Library Services to the Spanish-Speaking (REFORMA). The Black Caucus fought against discrimination within the profession and without—including, for example, the 1971 resolution to reprimand those libraries and librarians which provided services to schools created specifically to avoid desegregating.
The Black Caucus boosted the status of African American librarians within the ALA. Campaigning from the Black Caucus was central in electing Clara Stanton Jones as the first African American president of the ALA, instating her to preside over the ALA Centennial Celebration in 1976. Josey himself served as ALA president from 1984 to 1985, after he won the election in the spring of 1983.
Disturbed by the trend in the mid-1980s to undervalue libraries, Josey stressed the vital role libraries and librarians play in the community. For example, just after winning the election in 1983 Josey presented a firm opposition to a devastating policy for libraries pursued by former President Ronald Reagan. In American Libraries, Josey declared, “ALA must lead a nationwide fight against the zeroing out of library services from the federal budget. Libraries of all kinds are now competing for dollars along with other essential services. We find that many libraries are cutting back services…. I will remind the nation that libraries are an integral part of the infrastructure of this country. I plan to link the economic survival of libraries with jobs for the American people.”
Josey chose the theme, “Forging Coalitions for the Public Good,” to guide his presidency. Coalitions for Josey meant, throughout his term and career, pushing for gender equality in libraries, pushing for bilingual and multilingual collections, and pushing for access for people with physical disabilities. Most of all Josey’s vision meant advocating for continued and expanded free access to the wealth of knowledge and information in libraries.
In 1985, for example, Josey brought out library advocates with Congressman Major Owens (Democrat, New York) to march in Washington, DC, against Reagan’s proposals. Reagan had supported ending federal funding for libraries. In American Libraries, Josey spelled out the bottom line of his candidacy: “The cornerstone of my administration will be to keep ALA in the forefront of intellectual freedom. We must maintain full access to all public information for all potential users.”
In Josey’s reflections on his career in his essay, “More Than Two Decades Later,” in the 1994 book he edited, The Black Librarian in America Revisited, he considered the legacies of his term as ALA president. He identified five major successes: establishing a President’s Committee on Library Services to Minorities, beginning a Commission on Pay Equity, initiating coalitions with diverse groups to support libraries, starting what would become the ALA Committee on Legislation, and appointing people of color to leadership positions in committees on which none had served before.
Josey has also led in community advocacy for civil and human rights. A member of the NAACP for more than 40 years, from 1960 Josey served on the executive board of the Savannah Branch, the first to be established at a state-supported college in the South. When Josey moved in 1967 to Albany, New York, he remained a member of the executive board and served as president of the Albany branch from 1982 until 1986. A comment Josey made for the author of an article in Ebony magazine demonstrates Josey’s approach to redressing the widespread denial of a fundamental human right—literacy. “Reading is basic to knowledge, but there are about 27 million Americans who are functionally illiterate because they can’t read such things as street signs,” Josey was quoted as saying. “I’d like to see that handicap eliminated during my lifetime, but in order to accomplish that, it will take a national effort with assistance from the federal government.”
Early in Josey’s career in Savannah, Georgia, Josey participated in the civil rights movement. As a leader in the Albany NAACP during the 1980s, Josey pushed for better living conditions in communities of color, for affirmative action, and for monitoring city schools to ensure a quality education for youth of color. NAACP membership and voter registration drives and a protest to boycott the South African rugby team in Albany counted among the actions Josey helped lead during the 1980s. In the ALA in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Josey worked to maintain sanctions on South Africa to end apartheid and win the rights of citizenship for the people of South Africa.
During the Vietnam War, when America was divided into support and opposition, Josey excoriated the ALA for not taking a position. “I am probably the only past president of the American Library Association who ever led a delegation of members out of the annual conference of the association,” Josey recalled in his book, The Black Librarian in America. “It was in 1970 at the ALA Conference in Detroit that for about the second or third time our resolution to condemn the Vietnam War had been roundly defeated. I took the floor and made an impassioned speech and asked all of those who agreed with me not to stay in ALA—that we should leave, and about 300 persons followed me out of the conference hall.”
If Josey has been an activist and advocate he has also been a diplomat. He contributed to development in Africa in 1987, for example, when he advised three emerging African countries, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and Zambia, on library and information science. The U.S. government had invited Josey to share his expertise internationally.
From 1986 until his retirement in 1995, Josey devoted himself to professional library education and an affirmative action program to achieve racial balance in library education. Josey joined the faculty of the School of Library and Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at the invitation of the provost, Donald Henderson. The University of Pittsburgh was interested in increasing its enrollment of people of color in the Library School and Josey welcomed the challenge.
Josey responded to a severe racial imbalance within the library profession. Although in the early 1990s African Americans comprised more than 13 percent of the U.S. population, with 30 million individuals, black graduates of library studies programs composed only 3.8 percent of all graduates in 1987, according to figures compiled in 1990 and reported by Thomas Lawrence King in an essay in The Black Librarian in America Revisited. “In spite of the modicum of success that we have had in the recruitment of minorities at Pitt, we still need to do better and, of course, all the library schools in the nation must do better in view of these appalling statistics,” Josey appealed in his essay, “More Than Two Decades Later.”
Although he retired from the faculty in Pittsburgh in 1995, Josey was by no means finished with his work as an author and library advocate. Having received innumerable awards from the profession and community for decades of service to librarianship and civil liberties, and having authored more than 300 articles and ten books, Josey continued to write. In 1995 Josey planned four new volumes.
Josey sustained his sharp commentary on the state of black librarians in America as well. In The Black Librarian in America Revisited, Josey wrote, “During the last 23 years there have been attempts by several administrations to turn back the clock…. [T]here have been severe cuts in funding or cutbacks of educational programs and library programs, shrinking budgets, and the unprecedented competition for scarce resources which have put black communities, black educational institutions, and black organizations at risk. Black librarians have suffered from these economic dislocations along with the black community.” Still, with the electoral coalition that successfully won the U.S. presidency in 1992, Josey ended on a note of hope: “It appears that democratic, pragmatic, and cultural concerns will outweigh exclusively ideological issues,” Josey observed in 1994.
The Black Librarian in America, Scarecrow, 1970.
What Black Librarians Are Saying, Scarecrow, 1972.
New Dimensions for Academic Library Service, Scarecrow, 1975.
(Co-editor) Handbook of Black Librarianship, Libraries Unlimited, 1977.
(Co-editor) Opportunities for Minorities in Librarianship, Scarecrow Press, 1977.
(Co-editor) The Information Society: Issues and Answers, Oryx Press, 1978.
Libraries in the Political Process, Oryx Press, 1980.
(Co-editor) Ethnic Collections in Libraries, Neal-Schuman Publishers, 1983.
Libraries, Coalitions, and the Public Good, Neal-Schuman Publishers, 1987.
(Co-author) Politics and the Support of Libraries, Neal-Schuman Publishers, 1990.
The Black Librarian in America Revisited, Scarecrow Press, 1994.
Also contributed numerous articles to professional journals and served on the following editorial boards: Dictionary of American Library History, c. 1974; ALA Yearbook, 1975–83.
The Black Librarian in America Revisited, edited by E. J. Josey, Scarecrow Press, 1992.
E. J. Josey: An Activist Librarian, edited by Ismail Abdullahi, Scarecrow Press, 1992.
American Libraries, May 1985, p. 278; July/August, 1983, p. 490.
Ebony, July 1985, pp. 126–130.
Jet, July 17, 1995, p. 33.
Library Journal, March 1, 1995, p. 13.
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