On August 15, 1958, Jesse H. Turner, a bank cashier, filed suit against the Memphis Public Library in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee to force the library’s Board of Directors to allow equal access for African Americans to all facilities. Filed by attorneys from the NAACP, the suit named librarian Jesse Cunningham (who retired that year, to be replaced by C. Lamar Wallis), library board president Wassell Randolph and all members of the library board as defendants.
Over the course of the next three years, the battle to integrate Memphis’ libraries would be waged primarily in the courts. Ultimately, libraries and their restrooms would be fully accessible to all, as per the order by Judge William E. Miller.
The Library Integration Collection contains legal documents, letters and news reports related to the desegregation of the Memphis Public Library and Information Center. These documents were saved by library staff and include papers from C. Lamar Wallis’ personal files, so although they are not an exhaustive record of that period of the library’s history, they are extremely telling in consideration of both the inclusions and the omissions.