75 YEARS LATER: Pearl Thompson, 92, signs her new Wake County library card
NINTY TWO-year-old Pearl Thompson was a student at Shaw University in 1942 when she was told she couldn’t check out a book from the Olivia Rainey Library public library because she was black.
She was sent to the library’s basement, where she had to wait for a staff member to bring her the book she was assigned to read for a history class. Blacks weren’t issued library cards, so she had to stay in the basement to read it.
Seventy-three years later, Thompson finally has her very own library card.
She entered the Cameron Village Regional Library last week, aided by a walker, to attend a ceremony in her honour.
“I expected to go in and get a book,” Thompson told News & Observer.
Seventy-three years later, Thompson returned to Raleigh with her daughter and granddaughter and finally got her library card.
The 92-year-old is currently battling kidney disease and suffers from heart issues , but she wouldn't let that stop her going to the ceremony.
The Olivia Raney Library was the city’s first public library and later became a part of the larger Wake County Public Library system. In the 1960's, it merged with Richard B. Harrison Library - a Thompson reportedly helped to launch - which only served black people at the time.
The Olivia Raney Library, which is now closed, serves as a local history library and the administration at Cameron Village Library, which opened right after Olivia Raney Library closed, held a ceremony in the 92-year-old's honour last week.
"We all felt that the presentation of Mrs Thompson's library card needed to be honoured with a ceremony and we also wanted the opportunity to rectify a mistake of the past,” Ann Burlingame, deputy director of Wake County Public Libraries, told The Huffington Post.
After college, Thompson, who has always been an advocate for education, went on to become a teacher in Raleigh for nearly fifty years.
“I was determined that when I became a teacher every child would have an opportunity to learn to read,” Thompson said at the ceremony. “A little boy [had] Down’s syndrome and they said he would never learn to read. And I taught him to read. Even to the point he wrote books himself."
Thompson moved to Ohio with her husband after 12 years as a teacher in Raleigh, and she now lives in Cincinnati where she taught for 37 years. Decades after her days in college, she said she doesn't hold a grudge against the library and their poor treatment.
“I don’t hold any kind of hate in my heart, because that doesn’t do it,” she said. “That doesn’t get you there.”