February 11, 2020

The East Winston Library: A Jim Crow-Era Time Capsule

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“East Winston, how can I help you?” That’s how a young white woman at the Malloy/ Jordan Library answered the phone when I was there recently.

The Malloy/Jordan Library was built in 1954, one year after the Central Library on Fifth Street was constructed. But its history dates back to February 1927 when the first library branch was opened in East Winston. Last year, the East Winston Library celebrated its 65th anniversary. Recent upgrades to the Malloy/Jordan or East Winston Library have brought it into the 21st century, but there simply isn’t enough space for patrons at the East Winston Library. The building works well as a meeting space, but it’s inadequate for the needs of both children and adults.

At the time Forsyth County built the Central Library for white patrons and the Malloy/Jordan for Black patrons. The Malloy/Jordan is a miniature version of the old Central Library. The front entrance of the Malloy/Jordan looks and even smells like the old Central Library. When we look back on segregation in Winston, we often focus on schools, churches, and swimming pools, but we don’t often reflect on libraries as racially segregated spaces. But by preserving, without expanding the East Winston Library, Forysth County has unwittingly created a Jim Crow-era time capsule; a space to contemplate segregation both past and present.

The Malloy/Jordan Library is a modest building, subdivided into the main library room, a conference room, and an auditorium. The tiny Mally/Jordan is minuscule compared to the sprawling public health campus adjacent to it. It’s humble concrete block walls are adorned with an impressive collection of historic photos. Atkins High School photos dating back to the 1920s are everywhere, as well as Shades of Forsyth, an oral history project of selected African Americans in Forsyth County. It’s become the closest thing to a Black History Museum that Winston has.

Black History Museum

New bathrooms, carpet, and fixtures have given an old and outdated building a fresh look. But there is only so much that can be done to an old building. There are few plugs to plug in your phone or laptop. There’s not much space period. You can go to the back corner or into the conference room, but the main part of the library consists of three small tables and nine desktop computer workstations. It’s not big enough for children to come and read a book or do some research on their laptops.

The Malloy/Jordan Library was built on land donated by prominent African Americans. It’s a statement of African Americans’ desire to educate and better themselves in defiance of a Jim Crow system that professed that they were “separate and unequal.” The Malloy/Jordan received funding from the white power structure of the 1950s. It’s also a statement of paternalism. No doubt it was funded in an effort to keep African Americans out of the Central Library on Fifth Street.

Sixty-five years later it’s still a symbol of a separate and unequal city. I sympathize with those who want to preserve the original Malloy/Jordan building. I appreciate the local history on its walls. But East Winston deserves a modern library. The segregation box on East Seventh is unacceptable for a community that is striving to reduce poverty and improve third-grade reading levels. East Winston deserves a better library.

 

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