The next installment of the Letters Read series from arts organization Antenna will explore the desegregation of New Orleans libraries
Presented by Nancy Sharon Collins and Antenna, the series features local performers interpreting letters written by people throughout New Orleans history and communities. The library edition is 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 13 at the Nora Navra branch (902 St. Bernard Ave.) in the 7th Ward.
New Orleans' segregated library system operated two libraries for African-American residents — a library on Dryades Street closed following Hurricane Betsy in 1965, and Branch Nine opened in 1946.
That library — first built in a Valena C. Jones Elementary School building before moving into two army surplus huts — later was renamed after patron Nora Navra after the library moved into its permanent building in 1954. Nora Navra closed following Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures and reopened after new construction in 2017.
Integration efforts were spearheaded by then-Dillard University President Abert C. Dent and civil rights activist Rosa Keller, who campaigned against the city's segregated library facilities as a member of the library board. On March 10, 1954 — amid arguments leading up to that year's landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board that paved the way for integration efforts — Keller remained the only member of the board to promote integration. The libraries were integrated months later.
In the long struggle for civil rights, we’ve all heard of the bridge at Selma, the bus boycott in Montgomery — but what about libraries?