Civil Rights Pioneer, Librarian E. J. Josey Dies at 85

July 6, 2009

Integrating the library profession, 1900-1997
Integrating the library profession, 1900-1997

News reached the ALA Council list yesterday evening that Elonnie Junius Josey, better known as E. J., had died Friday, July 3, in Washington, North Carolina, at age 85.

E. J. Josey was born January 20, 1924. By 1984 he had reached the pinnacle of his profession, becoming the second African-American president of the American Library Association (Clara Jones was the first, in 1976) after devoting his professional life to fighting the racism that permeated American society. Those of us who had the privilege of knowing E. J. knew him to be a fighter.

Perhaps more than any other member of ALA, Josey represented that changes in the nation and the profession that occurred in the second half of the 20th century. One of the first and foremost African American library educators (University of Pittsburgh) and a trailblazer in Association leadership, he said in a 2000 interview, “I was born and grew up in the days of segregation in the kind of society that not only dehumanizes me as an African American, but dehumanized my family and all African Americans.” But he also noted that “people who know me best will also say that I fought for all people who were disadvantaged, including minorities and women, not only in our profession but throughout the world.”

He organized the Black Caucus of the American Library Association in 1970, and in 2002 he was awarded Honorary Membership in ALA, the Association’s highest honor. Not only was E. J. Josey a fighter for human rights, he was also a fighter when it came to the ill health that ultimately put him in a wheelchair. The last time I saw him was at the 2008 ALA Midwinter Meeting, where the beaming octogenarian received an impromptu introduction to basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It was one of dozens and dozens of proud moments in the illustrious career of a man who changed the face of librarianship and the country. Randolph Funeral Home in at 219 North Bonner Street in Washington, North Carolina, is handling the service. Funeral Director Betty Randolph told me this morning that she is meeting with the family today to finalize arrangements. The funeral is tentatively set for Saturday, July 11. UPDATE, July 7: Funeral services will be held Saturday, July 11, at Cornerstone Missionary Baptist Church, 1095 Allen Road, Greenville, North Carolina 27834, with viewing at noon and services beginning at 1 p.m. The family requests that memorial contributions be sent to the E. J. Josey Scholarship fund or to the newly formed E. J. Josey Foundation for Justice and Peace, 526 West 2nd Street, Washington, North Carolina 27889. Condolences may be sent to 528 West 2nd Street, in care of Josey’s daughter, Amina Turner.