10 September 2020
"Equal Rights for All" photo, (c) Art Shay Archives

In 1959, a housing developer began work on new, upscale homes in Deerfield, with a difference--the development would be racially integrated. Many residents immediately opposed the development. In the weeks that followed, residents passed a park referendum to condemn the developer’s land. The crisis became a national story, attracting the attention of Martin Luther King Jr., James Baldwin, Eleanor Roosevelt, and years of protest. The land has remained parks. In the years since, many residents were unaware of this important struggle for civil rights in their community.

The Deerfield Public Library had participated in panel discussions held for the 40th and 50th anniversaries. As early as 2017, we began visualizing what an appropriate 60th anniversary might look like. At the same time, we were receiving requests from educators, researchers, college students, and residents looking for access to our archives on this case. We attributed this to the growing national conversation about racial disparities, including new high-profile books, and the Black Lives Matter movement, among many others. We saw an opportunity to communicate the ways in which these national conversations relate to local issues.

The result was “The Fight to Integrate Deerfield: 60 Year Reflection,” (FID) a months-long, library-wide initiative launched in January 2019, providing significant new information and resources for today and future generations.

The project grew organically, through continued research, new discoveries, and community partnerships. Project elements included:

Website/Digital Archives: A dedicated website (deerfieldlibrary.org/FID) was created to serve as a one-stop location for the projects: a narrative and timeline of the history, descriptions of all live programs, related videos and podcasts, and the newly digitized historical archives.

Programs: There were eight on-site programs, including two Youth programs. Our regular book and film discussions were folded into the list of programs, both featuring James Baldwin.

Exhibit: This included many primary documents with captions in both English and Spanish, a map charting locations of major events, and an expansive display of photos by Art Shay, an award-winning photographer and former Deerfield resident.

Podcasts: Two podcasts featuring FID programs were produced, and an earlier podcast with Art Shay, continue to be accessible at deerfieldlibrary.org/podcasts.

Communications: The integrated marketing plan provided high volume contact through diverse formats and outlets, including a FID logo and brochure, newsletters (digital and print), social media, and outreach to the press.

Community Partnerships: Early contact in the research and planning phase laid the groundwork for new learning opportunities for Deerfield students and community members of all ages. These examples emphasized the importance of continued focus on work with the community, both inside and outside of the building. While all FID activity was pre-COVID, most elements transfer to the virtual realm.

  • School Projects: Both Middle Schools utilized FID for multiple student projects.This included student-produced virtual tours of Deerfield, highlighting areas pertinent to FID; digital exhibits for the FID online archives; and a virtual tour of the physical FID exhibit. The students also did presentations about their projects to both the School Board and the Library Board.
  • Community Presentations: During the run of the project, staff gave 10 presentations on FID hosted by worship centers, service groups, a university, and Deerfield High School.
  • Community Members: The Library received many contributions of historical documents from residents and former residents that were involved in the civil rights activities during the era covered by FID.
  • Art Shay Archives: The Archives donated dozens of Shay’s Deerfield photographs, which expanded the scope of the exhibit. In addition, the Friends of the Deerfield Public Library sponsored the purchase of two of Art Shay’s photos, including one of James Baldwin in Deerfield.

We were honored to have the project recognized with a 2020 American Library Association John Cotton Dana Public Relations Award. Most importantly, the public continues to access FID resources for anti-racist education and action. For example, a community group created in response to FID programs, successfully advocated for the changing of the name of the park that took the place of the condemned integrated housing project. The community continues to congregate virtually in large numbers for Library programs that feature diverse voices and experiences. Now that the building is open for limited hours, people have come specifically to view the photos and exhibit. Open access to Deerfield’s history is helping the community envision the future.

Our guest blogger today is Judy Hoffman. Judy is the Outreach Coordinator at Deerfield Public Library. Image rights: "Equal Rights for All" photo, (c) Art Shay Archives