Effie Lee Morris, 88, children’s librarian extraordinaire and advocate for children’s literature and library service to youngsters with impaired vision, died of cancer November 10 at her home in San Francisco.
Calling Morris the “Grand Dame of children’s librarianship,” Andrew P. Jackson, former president of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA), made the announcement on the BCALA discussion list. “As it was with our founder, E. J. Josey, it was with Ms. Effie Lee, for she made the most of her years,” said Jackson, executive director of the Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center in Queens, New York. “She was a true activist librarian, committed to establishing and improving children’s services and black children’s literature and collections throughout her long illustrious career.”
“Ms. Morris was pure class,” said BCALA Newsletter Editor S. D. Harris, children’s librarian at Norwalk (Conn.) Public Library’s South Norwalk branch. “I’m sure she was dear to all of us. She provided great leadership worthy of being imitated. She was upfront, well studied in children’s work.”
Born in Richmond, Virginia, April 20, 1921, Morris spent her youth in Cleveland, Ohio. She received a bachelor of arts degree in 1945, bachelor of library science in 1946, and an MLS in 1956—all from Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University) in Cleveland.
She began her library career in 1946 at Cleveland Public Library and established its first Negro History Week celebration for children. Morris moved to New York in 1955 and became a children’s librarian for the New York Public Library, going on to serve as children’s specialist at NYPL’s Library for the Blind from 1958 to 1963.
In 1963, Morris moved to San Francisco to become the first coordinator of children’s services at San Francisco Public Library. In 1964, Morris established the Children’s Historical and Research Collection at SFPL’s Children’s Center, which features titles that depict the changing portrayals of ethnic and minority groups during the 20th century. The collection was subsequently renamed in her honor. She remained at SFPL for 15 years, and then served as editor of children’s books at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich from 1978 to 1979.
Active in ALA since 1949, Morris chaired the Social Responsibilities Round Table and was an early supporter and chair of the Coretta Scott King Awards. She became the first African-American woman to become president of the Public Library Association, serving from 1971 to 1972. Morris served on the Advisory Board of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book in 1983, became the recipient of the BCALA Trailblazer Award in 2005, and in 2008 was named an ALA Honorary Member, the organization’s highest honor, in recognition of “her vision, advocacy, and legacy to children’s services in public libraries.”
Other tributes to Morris include her receipt of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association’s Silver Spur Award for enhancing the city’s quality of life and economic vitality; the National Book Award “for extraordinary contribution to the world of books” from the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA); and ALA’s Grolier Award. In 1996, WNBA’s San Francisco chapter named an annual lecture series after her: Among the children’s authors and illustrators featured at the Effie Lee Morris Children’s Lecture Series are Nikki Grimes, Milly Lee, Pamela Munoz Ryan, Tomie dePaola, and Pat Mora.
Jackson concluded the announcement of Morris’s death on the BCALA discussion list by calling on colleagues to let her contributions “inspire all of us that knew her, worked with her, were mentored by her, encouraged by her, and maybe more so to those who were not fortunate enough to know Ms. Effie Lee personally.”