It took 73 years, but a 92-year-old woman can finally check out books from her now-former local library. Pearl Thompson received a library card on Thursday after the better part of a century had passed since she was told she couldn’t check out a book because of her skin color.
In 1942, Thompson was given an assignment in a class of hers at Shaw University in North Carolina that required access to a book that wasn’t in the school library, according to the (North Carolina) News & Observer. She decided to go to the local library, where she was escorted into a basement where she was required to read the book. She couldn’t check it out because the library didn’t give library cards to African-Americans at the time.
“It’s going to take me awhile to get to you,” Thompson said Thursday as she approached a celebration in her honor at the library, “but it’s been a long journey anyway.”
Thompson said that she had expected to simply “go in and get a book.” The branch she decided to go to that day was for whites only, and there was a separate library in Raleigh for black residents.
Shaw worked in Raleigh as a teacher at black schools immediately after graduating from college but then moved to Ohio with her husband. She currently lives in Cincinnati.
It was 12 years after Thompson was denied a library card that the Supreme Court ruled on Brown v. Board of education in 1954 and said that segregated schools were unconstitutional. It was another 10 years before the Civil Rights Act was passed to end codified segregation in public places more generally.
Thompson told the News & Observer she isn't angry. "I don’t hold any kind of hate in my heart, because that doesn’t do it,” she said. “That doesn’t get you there.”
Still, she suffers from kidney disease and heart problems, so she recently wrote up a bucket list. Getting that library card was on it.