Notice:

The Warr Acres Library will be closed Mon, May 16 - Wed, May 25 for recarpeting.

The renovated Wright Library will reopen on Tu, May 24 at 9:30a.

Ralph Ellison Centennial

History & Timeline

Resolution Against Systemic Racism

The Metropolitan Library System of Oklahoma County acknowledges its role in perpetuating systemic and institutional racism. In April 1921, the Oklahoma City Library Board voted to “exclude Negroes” from the only library branch in Oklahoma City, the Carnegie Library. Segregation was wrong then, and it is wrong now. Barring African American residents from using the Carnegie Library robbed a community of equal access and opportunity, and those actions were a moral failing on our part. Those decisions continue to affect the communities of color in our area, especially the Black community and Northeast Oklahoma City. Despite the circumstances of its beginnings, it is important to commemorate the history and impact of the Dunbar and Ralph Ellison branches. Starting in December 1921, the Dunbar Library was the second library in our system. During this centennial year, we want to honor and celebrate the librarians, neighborhoods, and patrons that have made these branches an important educational, cultural, and recreational center for Oklahoma City. While Dunbar Library was opened as a branch for Black patrons, Ralph Ellison Library is now a library for all serving a predominantly Black community.

 

When did the library desegregate?

In the post-World War II era, segregation barriers began falling at a quickening pace. Several landmark US Supreme Court cases in that era struck down racial barriers to education. Two of the most important ones arose out of Oklahoma. In 1948, the Court ruled in Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma that Oklahoma must provide Black students the same opportunities for securing a legal education as it provided to other citizens of Oklahoma. Later in 1950, McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents struck down the Oklahoma statute that mandated segregation in education. This case directly lead to the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education which held that any US state laws establishing racial segregation in public schools were unconstitutional.

One of the key issues in the events leading up to these landmark cases was access to libraries, as plaintiffs in the cases maintained that library access was essential to receiving a fair and equal education. These cases did not directly affect public libraries but the handwriting was on the wall. In the early 1950s several libraries in Oklahoma took the half-way step of making a separate room in their main libraries where Black patrons could access all the material but not mix with white patrons. In Oklahoma City, plans for the Capitol Hill Library in 1951 and the new Downtown Library in 1953 included designs with separate rooms. However, about this time public libraries around the state began opening to Black patrons after a city attorney in Tahlequah examined the statutes and found that there was not, nor had there ever been, a statute that closed libraries to Black citizens like there was for nearly everything else from water fountains to restrooms to schools. As libraries began opening to Black citizens, the public reacted favorably and there was little or no resistance to making public libraries in Oklahoma open to all citizens.


[back to top]

 

 

What caused the demographic change in Northeast Oklahoma City?

The post-World War II era was one of transformation in American society as a myriad of forces from civil rights to suburbanization brought sweeping changes to nearly every facet of life. In Oklahoma City, nowhere was this more acutely felt than the Northeast side. Urban renewal efforts to expand the medical complex crowded out families in the traditional Black enclave centered on NE 4 in the late 1960s. At the same time, the end of neighborhood schools and the use of busing to hasten school integration caused rapid suburbanization among white families into communities outside the school district (often referred to as "white flight"). As a result many black families moved north and east into formerly all-white neighborhoods like Creston Hills.


[back to top]

 

 

What was Urban Renewal?

Myth and controversy surround the urban renewal era and none more so than the common misconception that urban renewal only occurred Downtown. It’s a common misconception among most white residents. Black residents were not under any misconception that urban renewal was limited to Downtown. There were, in fact, three major urban renewal initiatives in Oklahoma City, each with ominous names that would be more at home in a secret research lab: Project 1-A, Project K and Project M each with supporting documentation with names like R-35.

Project K (1966) was known officially as the John F. Kennedy Urban Renewal Project and included an L-shaped swath of northeast OKC encompassing roughly NE 16 south to the Katy tracks between Lincoln and I-35. This area was the densest of Black neighborhoods in the city, including nearly all of the segregated redline area that had hemmed in the Black community until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, just two years earlier. While it did not include the famous commercial area known as Deep Duece, this area was known as the Fairgrounds neighborhood and considered by residents as the heart of the community. The R-35 study proposed that Project K uproot nearly 2500 families from their homes in the area and provide assistance in relocating them to other housing. This area was 98% Black and over 50% of homeowners had no mortgage on their home, a fact the report acknowledged was unusual for any neighborhood but remarkable for a low-income area.  

It's unclear how many homes were razed in the area and while a large swath to the north made way for a greatly expanded medical complex, there are still many open patches where homes once stood. As one former resident lamented in an oral history some 50 years later, “We owned our own homes and we took care of them. We mowed our lawns. And then they took them away and made us live in big apartment towers like they did back east.”

While existing records don’t provide a definitive date for the desegregation of Oklahoma City Libraries, there is also not an indication that the separate reading rooms for Black library users in the new library buildings were ever created. By the mid-1950s photographs and library promotional material suggest that Oklahoma City Libraries were fully integrated.

Learn More About Urban Renewal from those who saw it first hand

[back to top]

 

 

How did the Ralph Ellison Library get its name?

In 1972, the city had finally decided on a location for the new eastside library building to replace Dunbar Library. Although the city initially preferred a site at NE 20 and Eastern, the southeast corner of NE 23 and Eastern was ultimately selected based on community input. As preparations got underway, the library system began referring to it as Creston Hills Library because it was located in the Creston Hills neighborhood and it was library policy to name locations based on the city or neighborhood they were in. However, residents in the area challenged the name because Creston Hills had been an exclusive all-white neighborhood that had been particularly hostile to the Black community; they preferred that the library be named in honor of an individual of importance to the community. The early frontrunner for the name was Elijah Muhammed Library which was put forward by local leader Theodore GX. Proponents petitioned the city and appeared many times at city council meetings asking for the change. Finally a coalition of two Black community organizations came together to collaborate with Theodore GX on a name and the final selection was Ralph Ellison Library, deemed much more appropriate for a library as Ellison was a celebrated author and man of letters.


[back to top]

 

 

Ralph Ellison Library Opening Pamphlet


[back to top]

 

 

Upcoming Events

Booked: (Pick-Up) Adult Book Subscription Boxes

All Day5/10 - 5/20
Ralph Ellison Library
Registration
Library Branch: Ralph Ellison Library
Room: Online + Curbside (Ralph Ellison)
Age Group: Adults
Program Type: Books & Reading, Take-Home Kit
Registration Required
Seats Remaining: 16
Event Description:
Visit the Ralph Ellison Library after the 6th of this month to pick up your box for this month. Registrants will have one week (until the 13th of this month) to pick up their boxes. This service is for adults. ...

Disclaimer(s)

We cannot guarantee that food served at this program has not come into contact with tree nuts, soy, or other allergens. Accordingly, the Library will not be liable for such harm to any individual resulting from such allergens.

We can only guarantee one kit per registration.  Please register individually to ensure that kits are appropriately distributed.  Special notes should not be used for additional registrations.

Thank you for your help!

Throwback Thursday Game Days

May 19, 2022
4:00pm - 6:00pm
Ralph Ellison Library
Library Branch: Ralph Ellison Library
Room: Meeting Room B (Ralph Ellison)
Age Group: Kids, Teens
Program Type: Games & Gaming
Event Description:
Come play with us for throwback retro gaming! We will have an original Nintendo, Super Nintendo and board games! ...

Disclaimer(s)

Customers are encouraged to socially distance by maintaining 6 feet apart for the duration of the event.

Summer Teen Volunteer Training

May 21, 2022
1:00pm - 2:30pm
Ralph Ellison Library
Registration
Library Branch: Ralph Ellison Library
Room: Meeting Room B (Ralph Ellison)
Age Group: Teens
Program Type: Careers & Jobs
Registration Required
Seats Remaining: 10
Event Description:
Summer reading and volunteer training for teens. ...

Disclaimer(s)

Customers are encouraged to socially distance by maintaining 6 feet apart for the duration of the event.

Summer Teen Volunteer Training

May 23, 2022
4:00pm - 5:30pm
Ralph Ellison Library
Registration
Library Branch: Ralph Ellison Library
Room: Meeting Room B (Ralph Ellison)
Age Group: Teens
Program Type: Careers & Jobs
Registration Required
Seats Remaining: 9
Event Description:
Summer reading and volunteer training for teens. Attendees must be approved volunteers. If you're between the ages of 12-18 and want to volunteer this summer, please sign up here. ...

Disclaimer(s)

Customers are encouraged to socially distance by maintaining 6 feet apart for the duration of the event.

Computer Basics Classes

May 23, 2022
7:00pm - 8:00pm
Ralph Ellison Library
Registration
Library Branch: Ralph Ellison Library
Room: Meeting Room B (Ralph Ellison)
Age Group: Adults
Program Type: Computers & Technology
Registration Required
Seats Remaining: 3
Event Description:
Learn and practice computer basics in this hands-on class. Using Chromebook laptops, staff will guide adult learners through the fundamentals. Adults interested in the Computer Basics Classes will learn to use a keyboard and mouse, to connect to the ...

Disclaimer(s)

The library makes every effort to ensure our programs can be enjoyed by all. If you have any concerns about accessibility or need to request specific accommodations, please contact the library.

Customers are encouraged to socially distance by maintaining 6 feet apart for the duration of the event.

Storytime Clubhouse (Zoom)

May 25, 2022
10:00am - 10:30am
Ralph Ellison Library
Registration
Library Branch: Ralph Ellison Library
Room: Zoom (Ralph Ellison)
Age Group: Birth-PreK
Program Type: Books & Reading, Child Development & Parenting, Storytimes
Registration Required
Seats Remaining: 8
Event Description:

Join us for a storytime at your neighborhood library! Skilled librarians will introduce little ones to the library and show parents and caregivers invaluable information on reading readiness and create excitement about reading. Connect with others while enjoying stories, songs, rhymes, fingerplays, and more!

Gather up the little ones for Storytime Clubhouse presented by the Ralph Ellison Library! We'll enjoy weekly time together over Zoom with fun themes you'll love. Each week's theme comes with a take-home craft kit (optional), you may pick up in adva...

Disclaimer(s)

This event is an online event offered through video and web conferencing software.  If you register for this program, you will be emailed the link to connect digitally.   Please note, you may need to install an app or computer application to attend this program.  If you have any issues connecting, please reach out to askalibrarian@metrolibrary.org.

Be Advised:  This program may be photographed and/or videotaped for publicity purposes.

By Attending, you consent:  To the use of your voice and likeness in future publicity uses that contain content from this event. If you do not wish to be on camera, please let us know.

For more information visit our Photography & Video Disclaimer