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New Bartlesville Public Library mural honors former librarian

ruth brown mural .jpg
Posted at 9:25 PM, Jul 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-19 11:27:05-04

BARTLESVILLE, Okla. — The Bartlesville Public Library continues to honor one of its librarians more than 70 years after she was fired.

A new mural greets visitors outside the Bartlesville Public Library. It depicts children sitting around Miss Ruth Brown while she reads to them. Miss Brown was a fixture at the library from 1919 to 1950.

“She was instrumental in trying to make sure that anyone who walked through the door was very welcome and the library was for everyone," said Shellie McGill, director of the Bartlesville Public Library.

However, that belief wasn’t favored by all at a time of segregation, which often got Miss Brown in trouble.

“She just ruffled feathers all over town because people kinda liked things to stay the same," said Joan Dreisker with the Women's Network in Bartlesville. "And Ruth didn’t think things were all that wonderful with everybody being separate and unequal.”

Miss Brown loved reading to all children, no matter their race.

“Her very most favorite vision was to make sure that she could integrate the children’s storytime here at the library," McGill said. "And, unfortunately, she was never able to do that.”

Miss Brown also believed people should be able to read all sides of an issue, but that belief became a problem with some in the community. She was investigated for having communist literature in the library and was fired in 1950 after working there for 30 years.

“They could accuse her of being a communist," Dreisker said. "And this was during the McCarthy era. And that was all you needed to say for some people.”

While Miss Brown was fired for communism, many believe the real reason was her civil rights activism. So, the library is honoring her fight. Her presence is seen around the building with a quote and a bronze bust at the entrance.

“It’s been said she was about 15 years ahead of her time," McGill said.

Miss Brown’s story and legacy continue to live on even outside of the Bartlesville Public Library. Including in the book about her controversial firing, “The Dismissal of Miss Ruth Brown” written by Louise Robbins.

“What she did for this city was remarkable at the time," Dreisker said.

More than 70 years since her firing, Miss Brown is still there, welcoming everyone into the library. And now, her dream of reading to all children is coming true.

“Her legacy, I think this library is her legacy," Dreisker said.

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