The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 100, July 1996 - April, 1997

Racism and Censorship in Cold War Oklahoma:
The Case of Ruth W. Brown and the
Bartlesville Public Library
LOUISE S. ROBBINS*
NEED HELP! ... [M] Y DUTY APPEARS TO BE TO CLEAN OUT THE LIBRARY,
and believe me, it is some job. They had it well stocked with all the
commie magazines and papers- ... and we have probably missed half
of them."' Postmaster-and library board chairman-E. R. Christopher
made this plaintive cry for help to American Legion headquarters less
than a month after librarian Ruth W. Brown unwillingly ended her thir-
ty-year tenure as director of the Bartlesville, Oklahoma, Public Library
(BPL). The newly appointed library board was hard at work eliminating
allegedly subversive materials from the BPL. The city commissioners had
named the board on July lo, 1950, under a month-old ordinance that
gave them direct control over library policy and personnel. At the same
time, they had swept out the previous library board, charging it had
failed to exercise vigilance and control. As the chairman of the new
board, Christopher, a leader in Bartlesville's American Legion Post 105
and the Oklahoma Legion's Americanism Committee, was determined
to clean up the library and ensure that it promoted literature "favorable
to the 'American way of life.'"2
The "American Way of Life" that Christopher and his cohorts sought
to protect was the class and caste system characteristic of the South. Led
by the middle-aged Brown, progressive, young, white professionals and
African Americans had attempted to dismantle that system. To that
threat Bartlesville's powerful elite responded. The most bitterly fought
* Louise S. Robbins is an Assistant Professor in the School of Library and Information Studies
at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
E. R. Christopher to Dear Tom, Aug. 17, 195o, Box '3, E. R. Christopher Collection (West-
ern History Collection, University of Oklahoma, Norman).
2 Minutes of the Adjourned Regular Meeting of the Bartlesville City Commission (cited here-
after as BCC), July to, 1950, 2 (City Clerk's Office, Bartlesville); American Legion resolution,
Ibid., 2 (quotation); Ordinance #1453, ibid., 2. The ordinance was also published in the
Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprse, June 16, 1950.

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 100, July 1996 - April, 1997. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101218/. Accessed September 16, 2014.