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Librarian's Efforts Pierced Barriers To Integration

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Librarian's efforts pierced barriers to integration

He began his story sounding like a proud and pleased father. But as I listened to A.P. Marshall, I came to realize there was more to the story than that - much more.

If you've been around Ypsilanti for any period of time, you probably don't need any introduction to A.P. Marshall. He's lived here nearly 30 years and is well-known in the community as a former library director and dean at Eastern Michigan University, as well as a local historian, author and community servant.

Last week, I happened to be at a gathering with Marshall when he began talking about his daughter, Satia Marshall Orange. She recently left the TransAfrica organization in Washington, D. C., to accept a job with the national headquarters of the American Library Association in Chicago. 

A.P. Marshall could not - nor did he even try to - disguise his pride in his daughter. Or his pleasure and having her move nearer to him and his wife, Ruthe.

"She wanted to be closer to us as we get older," he said. "She's our only child. We feel better having (her) closer."

I could imagine how much that meant to Marshall. 

Or rather, I thought I could.

But his daughter's new job had a much deeper meaning for him than I knew. For him, it was the just deserts [sic] of a struggle for equality that goes back nearly 60 years. 

The struggle began back in 1940, when Marshall, recently graduated from college and eager to become active in his new profession, went to his first national conference of the American Library Association. 

Marshall had received his degree from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo. Because the institution had an all-black student body and an all-black faculty, it offered a relatively sheltered environment. "Some of the problems of society, we didn't have to face every day," he says.

By the "problems of society," he meant the blatant discrimination that was waiting for him in his professional life.

At that time, many state library associations did not allow blacks to join. Missouri, where Marshall took his first job, did not have that restriction. "But even then," he says, "I ran into problems."

The 1940 convention of the ALA was in Cincinnati, a northern city with southern-style segregation. Marshall says when he went to his first national conference that year, he was not allowed to stay in the hotel where the ALA was meeting. When he arrived each day for the sessions, he was asked to use the freight elevator. And he was not allowed to buy tickets for the luncheons.

At the time, he recalls, only two or three African Americans attended these annual conventions. "But with a handful of blacks and a whole slew of whites, we were able to revise some of the ways of the organization," he says. "We broke down a lot of barriers."

The barriers didn't all come crashing down at once. But fall they did.

At the urging of reform-minded delegates, the ALA agreed to stop having its annual convention in cities with segregated facilities.

It agreed not to accept as a member any library that didn't have equal opportunity in employment.

And it agreed to integrate the staff at its national headquarters.

Marshall recalls that by 1950, the number of blacks attending the ALA national convention had gone from a handful to more than 100. In 1958-9, he was elected president of the state library association in Missouri. And in 1970, he was nominated for the presidency of the American Library Association. He didn't win that office, but the organization has since had several black presidents and a black executive director.

Marshall says when he moved to Ypsilanti in 1969 to become director of the University Library at EMU, he found a more welcoming climate. He cites one example. "In Missouri, I was never invited to join the Rotary," he says. "In Ypsilanti, I was invited almost as soon as I got here."

He notes that he went on to become the first black president of the Ypsilanti Rotary Club and the first black man to serve as district governor for Rotary in this area. 

Marshall's struggle for equality and his own achievements make a compelling story anytime, but especially during Black History Month.

I sometimes hear older African Americans lament that young people today have no concept of what it was like to live under the harsh burden of segregation, and little appreciation for the struggles that led to the greater opportunities they enjoy today.

Yet, that is a part of our history that none of us should forget. It was a painful time of social upheaval, but we emerged a better, more just nation.

One of the most pleasant parts of my job is getting to know people like A.P. Marshall. He is an intelligent, genteel and good-natured man. It shames me to think there would have been a time - not that long ago - when such a man would have been told he was not good enough to ride in the same elevator that I could have ridden in. 

But he and so many others insisted on equality, and struggled to achieve it for themselves and the many who would come after them.

And now, A.P. Marshall's own daughter has come to work in the national office of the organization he helped integrate.

"There's a lot of satisfaction in that for me," he says.

And so there should be. Good for you, A.P. Good for all of us.