Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Case Study No. 1906: Charlemae Hill Rollins

The Children's Librarian
The Children's Librarian

Ella Jenkins

(P) 2001 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Released on: 2001-08-28

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From wikipedia.org:

Charlemae Hill Rollins (June 20, 1897 – February 3, 1979) was a pioneering librarian, author and storyteller in the area of African-American literature. During her thirty-one years as head librarian of the children's department at the Chicago Public Library as well as after her retirement, she instituted substantial reforms in children's literature.

Rollins was born in Yazoo City, Mississippi, to Allen G. Hill, a farmer, and Birdie Tucker Hill, a teacher. Her family moved to Beggs in Oklahoma Territory hoping to find better living conditions, but discovered that black children were excluded from attending school. Undeterred, Rollins's family founded a school which Rollins attended.

After completing her elementary education, Rollins attended black high schools in St Louis, Missouri, Holly Springs, Mississippi, and Quindoro, Kansas, where she graduated in 1916. After earning her teaching certificate, she taught at the school her family had set up before leaving to attend Howard University. She returned after a year to marry Joseph Walter Rollins on April 8, 1918. The couple moved to Chicago in 1919, after Joseph returned from World War I. Their son, Joseph Walter Rollins, Jr., was born in 1920.

Rollins became a children's librarian at the Chicago Public Library in 1927. Initially, she worked at the Hardin Square Branch Library, where she became known as a prolific storyteller. Though she did not earn a degree, Rollins received library training from Columbia College in the summer of 1932, and the graduate library program of the University of Chicago from 1934-1936. It is not surprising Rollins chose to concentrate in children's literature, calling learning to read at a young age "the best thing I ever did." Rollins's grandmother, a former slave, was a pivotal person in her life. She helped Rollins cultivate her love of reading by allowing her access to her library. This passion helped drive Rollins to become a librarian.

Chicago's black population swelled as more families moved north for better education, work and living conditions. Racism (de jure & de facto) was rampant, contrasting with the benign attitude towards blacks before 1915. Since then, tensions had progressed, and culminated in events like the Chicago Race Riot of 1919. In such an atmosphere, no library was founded for the community until the George Cleveland Hall Branch Library opened in 1932. The first branch built in a black neighborhood, the library had a variety of patrons from various racial & economic groups. Rollins became the head of the children's department, where she worked until retiring in 1963.

Rollins worked with the library director, Vivian Harsh, to make the library welcoming to the multicultural, socioeconomically diverse patrons. Under their guidance, the library hosted discussion groups, lectures, a Negro History Club, and book fairs. In addition to her work with children, Rollins also set up a reading guidance clinic for parents. Many notable black writers visited the library, including Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Margaret Walker, and Langston Hughes, with whom Rollins developed a friendship.

Besides these contributions to librarianship, Rollins also taught at Morgan College in Baltimore, Maryland, and summers at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. She also began teaching a course in Children's Literature at Roosevelt University in 1949 and continued until 1979.

Rollins died on February 3, 1979, at the age of 81.


From smithsonianfolkways.org:

The Children's Librarian

In 1970, the Chicago chapter of the Women's National Book Association asked me to compose a song for Charlemae Rollins, the noted children's author, storyteller, lecturer, and former children's librarian at the Hall Branch Library in Chicago, as she would be receiving a National Book Award. Charlemae is a pleasant person and a talented one too.

There is a lady whose name is Charlemae. (2x)
She served years and years of children,
and she serves today.
She reads a lot of books,
and she writes some too.
Charlemae Rollins,
we're awfully proud of you. (2x)
There is a lady named Charlemae.
Her heart is filled with kindness,
more than words can say. (2x)
Words never say enough
except perhaps these few:
Charlemae Rollins, we all love you. (2x)

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