Miss Brown is well known and respected in library schools througout the country for her civil rights advocacy. In Oklahoma, an award in her name is given annually by the Oklahoma Library Association to recognize programming that addresses issues of social concern. Ruth Brown was a courageous woman who served faithfully as the Bartlesville Public Library’s Librarian from 1919 until she was fired in 1950, at the height of the McCarthy era, ostensibly for being a Communist.
Ruth Brown was no Communist, but she was a social activist. She allowed African Americans to borrow books when Jim Crow laws mandating separation of the races in public accommodations and education were commonly accepted and enforced. In 1946 she helped organize here in Bartlesville the only chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) south of the Mason-Dixon Line. She took a Black friend to worship with her at her all-white church. In 1950, she went with two young Black teachers to Hull’s Drugstore in downtown Bartlesville and asked to be served.
On March 11, 2007 the Bartlesville Women’s Network and the Friends of Miss Brown presented a commemorative bust of Miss Brown to the Bartlesville Public Library. The bust was sculpted by Janice Albro.
Text on the memorial reads:
“Ruth Winifred Brown, 1891-1975
Miss Ruth Brown was Bartlesville’s librarian for over thirty years.
As a librarian, she believed in universal access to the wisdom–and the foolishness–of the ages.
As an activist for Civil Rights, she relentlessley challenged the racial taboos and legal inequities of her time, stating that she “simply wanted to live as a Christian in a democracy.”
She and her friends established the Committee on the Practice of Democracy in Bartlesville in 1946. This was the first CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) affiliate group south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Fearless champion of intellectual freedom in a fearful world, she was ahead of her time in her quest for truth and justice. She lost her job because of her courageous struggle.
Miss Ruth Brown is nationally recognized as the first librarian in the United States to receive help from the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the American Library Association.
We honor her spirit. Her actions here helped change minds and laws and reshape the future.
Miss Ruth Brown was a righteous woman.”
For more information, read The Dismissal of Miss Ruth Brown by Louise Robbins.