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BY THE BOOK

part 2 of 2 In the last quarter of her junior year Pauline was ready to quit, this time for good. It wasn't just the prejudices of a few misguided people that wore her down. Working and studying was a drain; there was never enough money, and she was ashamed...
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part 2 of 2
In the last quarter of her junior year Pauline was ready to quit, this time for good. It wasn't just the prejudices of a few misguided people that wore her down. Working and studying was a drain; there was never enough money, and she was ashamed of the old clothes she had to wear.

One day Fachkt invited Pauline into her office. Laid out on a chair were three dresses.

"These are some old dresses of mine that I was going to get rid of, but I thought that you might like to have them," Fachkt said.

Pauline looked at the dresses and back at Fachkt, a heavy woman she had never known to wear such fashions. The dresses looked new and had Neusteters tags in them. When Pauline tried them on her thin frame, they fit perfectly. She looked at her counselor and thanked her. Neither said aloud what they both knew was the truth. But if her counselor was that willing to help, Pauline would repay her by staying in school.

At the end of Pauline's junior year, she was accepted to DU law school. Once again, Fachkt stepped in. "The legal profession is already hostile to women," she told Pauline. "And it will be even more hostile to you. Why don't you think about library school?"

Much as Pauline loved books, she'd been so focused on getting a law degree that she'd never given any thought to library work as a career. But she also trusted Fachkt's opinion, and she said she'd think it over.

Then economics dicated that Pauline leave school again. When she returned to DU in 1941, it was to complete her degree in the Department of Education. Seniors there were required to take a practice teaching assignment with Denver Public Schools before graduation. The head of the department handed out notecards, asking the students to indicate what grade they wanted to teach. Pauline wrote that she preferred to teach sixth grade.

Two days before the seniors were scheduled to begin their teaching assignments, the department head, Irwin Addicott, asked to see Pauline in his office. She knocked on his door and announced herself as she entered. He had his back to her and stayed in that position for several minutes without acknowledging her presence.

Suddenly, he whirled around in his chair. "Miss Short," he said, "I'm from Texas."

Confused and a little miffed, Pauline replied, "I don't care where you're from, but if you're interested, I'm from Oklahoma."

"Well, I know that you know there is such a thing as prejudice and segregation," he continued, "and if you want to do practice teaching, you will have to do it in the first grade at Whittier Elementary School. There is only one teacher in Denver that will accept Negroes to do practice teaching, and that is the one at Whittier School."

Pauline had nothing against Whittier, but she wasn't going to let this man tell her that her options were limited because of the color of her skin. She said she wasn't going to teach first grade.

"You asked us to write down our preference," she reminded Addicott. "If you refund my tuition for the four years at the university, you can tell me where to teach."

With that, she left his office. Two days passed before she was summoned back.
"Miss Short, you will do your practice teaching in ninth-grade algebra at Grant Junior High School," he said, obviously believing he was handing her a most unpleasant assignment.

But Pauline had her answer ready: "Why, in order for you to make that assignment, you would have gone to the registrar's office and checked my transcript and have seen that I have had Algebra 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 and received straight A's."

As the administrator's face turned the color of a ripe tomato, she thanked him and left his office.

Waiting in the hall was a white male student. "Pauline," he said, "I know why he gave you that assignment. He wants you to fail." Then he laughed and added, "Of course, I'm glad it was you and not me."

But it turned out the student had also been assigned to practice teaching at Grant, and he told Pauline, "If you'll meet me here every day, I'll give you a ride."

Pauline was a little worried about what he might expect in return. But on the first day of student teaching and all the days that followed, he was a perfect gentleman and even refused her offer to pay him for the rides.

It was a lesson she would never forget. For every person who tried to beat her down because of her race, there were more--like Fachkt and the young man--who would make the effort to lift her up. She vowed that whenever possible, she, too, would help young people, regardless of their race.

At Grant her white students and the white teacher treated Pauline with respect and kindness. She looked forward to each day, to her ride with her fellow student and to her time with the children.

But Addicott wasn't finished with her. At the end of the practice teaching assignment, he polled every parent and student from Pauline's classroom. None of them had a complaint.

Defeated, he came to her college classroom one day and publicly announced his findings. "From now on, Negroes will be able to practice teaching on any grade level in the Denver Public School system," he added.

The class erupted with cheers and applause. Pauline smiled and accepted the congratulations. She wasn't a lawyer, nor had she looked for this fight. But by standing up for her rights, she had struck a blow for all the black teachers who would someday work for DPS.

Pauline's perils weren't over, however. It was a tradition for DPS superintendent A.L. Threlkeld to meet with the seniors graduating from DU's education department. After her experience with Addicott, Pauline wasn't particularly interested in meeting with Threlkeld. After all, she still considered herself a future lawyer, not a teacher. But Fachkt persuaded her to meet with him as a formality.

Once again, Pauline reported to an office only to find its occupant sitting with his back to her. Instead of whirling, Threlkeld turned slowly. He didn't look so bad, just like a mild-mannered academic. But his tone was something else.

"Miss Short, I am surprised that you got this far in education, because the entire education system of Denver is structured to discourage Negroes from completing their education," he said. "And there will never be another Negro teacher in the Denver Public School system."

She couldn't believe what she was hearing. Angry, she told him that she had reported to his office against her better judgment. But if she wanted to teach in Denver, she would teach there come hell or high water.

"DPS is tax-supported," she said, "and you do not have the last word." He looked surprised that she would dare speak back to him, but he didn't say a word in response.

Pauline was fuming when she reported to work at the Community Vocational library. It happened that Cora Cook, the supervisor of all DPL branches, was there when she arrived.

When Cook mentioned Pauline's law-school ambitions, Pauline said that Fachkt had suggested she attend DU's library school instead and that she was still considering it.

Then Cook replied: "There's no need for you to go to library school, because there will never be a professional Negro working in the Denver Public Library."

Pauline had just been told that she couldn't teach in Denver. Now she was hearing that she couldn't be a librarian, either. Two major institutions were closing their doors to her because of the color of her skin.

Enough was enough. Pauline looked Cook in the eye. "You just made up my mind for me," she said. "I'm going to library school. But you can keep me out, because I am going to give your name as one of my references."

"You're a fool," Cook warned, but Pauline was already walking away.
Pauline was accepted to DU's library school. She never knew if Cook had tried to block her admission. And in June 1943 she became the first black ever to graduate from the school.

Even before she graduated, though, Pauline became the first black professional librarian in Denver. While she was still in school, her boss at the Community Vocational library resigned, and it looked like the facility would have to close. At the urging of community members, Pauline was persuaded to keep the branch open part-time.

While Howard was in the Army, Pauline took a leave of absence to follow her husband. She returned to the CV library in 1945 to find that circulation had dropped drastically; the children weren't coming anymore, and the reading programs she had initiated were gone. A decision was made to shut the library for good.

Once again, the community stepped in. A group that included the principals of local elementary schools that had benefited from Pauline's outreach launched a project to create a new library. Through their efforts, enough money was found in the DPL budget to build a library at 2563 Welton Street. The library was called the Cosmopolitan branch. Pauline was named its first librarian.

She threw herself into getting the Cosmopolitan off the ground. She knew that merely opening its doors wouldn't ensure that the library was a success--and therefore likely to remain in the budget. She surveyed the eight-block area around the library to ascertain the needs of her possible patrons. She visited the five elementary schools in the neighborhood and encouraged them to bring the children. She started story time and a summer reading program for children, as well as book-review evenings for adults. She reached out to the black community in particular, arguing that books represented knowledge and that knowledge was empowerment. Library use soared.

Up to this point, Pauline's battles against prejudice had been fought on a personal level. Hers was a quiet revolution. Into the hands of young black people she'd placed books she thought were important, like Up From Slavery. Doing so, she could hear her father's voice, reading by the light of a kerosene lamp: "Without struggle there is no progress."

In 1947 Pauline noticed an announcement in a black magazine calling for a "Negro History Week," and she organized Denver's first such event at the Cosmopolitan library. The celebration was yearly through 1954 and eventually evolved into Black Awareness Month.

It was also in 1947 that Pauline actively participated in a civil rights demonstration.

The Lyle Fellowship Group, a gathering of idealistic white college students, was meeting in Denver that year and decided to challenge the segregation policy at the Elitch Gardens theater. Only whites were allowed to sit in the first-floor seats, while blacks--when they were allowed in at all--had to sit in the balcony.

Pauline was eating lunch at the downtown YWCA when she was approached by the students and asked if she would join in a test case. They were going to try to get her seated on the first floor. She agreed.

One evening Pauline and nine others--all of them white--bought tickets and lined up to enter the theater. Seven made it through before Pauline and two others, a white man and a white woman, were stopped by the ticket-taker.

The ticket-taker snatched their tickets from the white man who held them. The young man, a student at New York University, snatched the tickets back. Angry, the ticket-taker asked the white woman where she was from. The woman replied that she was a student at the University of Texas.

The ticket-taker sneered. "You ought to know better," he said. "We string them up to a tree in Texas."

Although Pauline was kept out of the theater that night, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People took her case to court: Robinson v. the Elitch Gardens Company. The company eventually settled out of court with a victory for the civil rights movement; from that point forward, seating at Elitch's was desegregated. And the girl who had dreamed of arguing such cases before the Supreme Court was now in the law books.

The Cosmopolitan library was closed in 1953, but Pauline was not out of a job. In 1954 she was appointed to run the Warren branch library at 34th Avenue and High. When she arrived, library use was declining. Within the year, under her leadership, it was on the upswing again.

Although Pauline encouraged everyone to use the library, it was the children who touched her heart.

Two in particular would always stand out. One sixth-grade girl was brought to the library by her mother, who asked for Pauline's help. The girl couldn't read above the second-grade level but was afraid her classmates would tease her, so she continually checked out books that were beyond her.

Pauline found books that the girl could read without stumbling. She told her mother to have the girl read aloud to her for thirty minutes every day, and then to read to the girl for the same amount of time. Within a year the girl had caught up with her class.

The second child was a seventh-grade boy whose distraught father brought him to the library, again asking Pauline for help. The boy had passed through elementary school but couldn't read above a primer level. The boy's self-esteem had sunk so low that there was a concern he would drop out of school.

Pauline told the man to bring his son to the library every day before it opened, and she would have the boy read to her. But there was more to the bargain: Father and son would check out thirteen books every week, the maximum allowed, and the father promised he would listen to his son read each and every one. When they finished the thirteen, they checked out thirteen slightly harder books and repeated the process. Within a month the boy was reading on a second-grade level. Six months later he had caught up to his class and was an excellent student.

Through all of this, Pauline somehow found time to volunteer at the Samaritan House Guild and the New Hope Baptist Church and to belong to Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, a service organization for black women. And she completed graduate work at Western Michigan State University and Columbia University.

Returning from a summer program at Columbia in 1964, Pauline was appointed coordinator of children's services for the DPL. She developed book lists for children of Hispanic, black and Indian heritage, looking for titles that avoided stereotypes and misrepresentations so that children of color could read and take pride in their culture. For every Horace Mann, she knew there was a Booker T. Washington.

The library's top officials thought so highly of Pauline's project that they had the young adult and adult-services branches develop their own versions.

"There are economically deprived people and educationally deprived people, but everyone has a culture," she would tell those who snatched up the lists. "You can't be culturally deprived."

In 1970 Pauline was presented the Nell I. Scott award from the Friends of the Denver Public Library "in recognition of her outstanding library service to countless Denver children who have discovered the joys and values of books through her inspired efforts."

A short time later, a letter arrived from then-Governor John Love noting that through her efforts to develop "the ethnic and cultural collections in the children's libraries, you are making a contribution that will enrich the understanding of future generations. I am proud that you are a citizen of our Great State."

But all of that work had a price. As the years passed and Pauline kept up her frenetic pace, Howard grew worried about her. "You're pushing too hard," he said. But he knew the only person who could slow Pauline was Pauline.

Then in late May 1979, Pauline was driving to the bank when her car was broadsided at an intersection. She was rushed to the hospital, where her physician, Dr. Edmund Noel, warned her it was time to slow down.

"I've known you for years, and you've been burning the candle at both ends," he said. "If you want to live, go to the library and write a letter of resignation."

For once, Pauline followed someone else's orders without complaint. She retired that year.

Retirement allowed Pauline to return to her first love: reading. She devoured biographies, histories, fact and fiction. In quiet moments she liked to think about the children who had come to her. She hoped that, like her, they found some spark of inspiration on the printed page, words of hope there in black and white.

Some of the children who benefited from her efforts were students of Esther Nelson, a former elementary school principal. Nelson, a sorority sister, called Pauline last December.

"Did you know they're going to name a new library after some deserving member of the community?" Nelson asked. She was speaking of the new library proposed for 33rd and Holly, now set for a September 23 groundbreaking. Pauline's friend said the community was being asked to submit names; she wanted Pauline's permission to submit hers.

"When I think of the library, I think of you," Nelson continued. "Nobody else has made as significant a contribution."

Howard seconded that emotion: "The new library should be named for Pauline Robinson because she has done more to develop library services in this area than any other person I know," he wrote the selection committee, recounting her many contributions.

At her friends' urging, Pauline collected the newspaper clippings and photographs that highlighted her life's achievements and wrote a short autobiography. Otherwise, she stayed in the background as others pushed her cause. She didn't expect to be selected; rumor had it that there was political pressure to name the library for a man who, while popular, had never been part of the library community or associated with books and learning.

On the night of February 15, Howard attended the meeting to argue his wife's case, if need be. But the head of the library commission stepped up to the microphone and announced that the eight commissioners had unanimously selected Pauline Robinson.

Some supporters of other candidates walked out of the room. But most of the more than one hundred people present began cheering. As fast as he could clear the room, Howard was racing for home.

When he walked in the door of his house, Pauline was still lying on the couch. The telephone started ringing, and Howard had to hurry to be the first with the news.

"Well, you did it," he said.
Pauline just smiled and rose to get ready for bed. She left behind the book she'd pulled together for the nominating committee. While compiling those materials, it had almost seemed as though she was writing about someone else, maybe one of those people whose lives she'd first learned about through books. It was hard to believe that the skinny little black girl, the grandchild of a slave who loved to learn, had come so far.

end of part 2

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