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July 23, 2009

Obituary: E.J. Josey

School of Information Sciences professor emeritus and nationally known civil rights advocate for minority librarians E.J. Josey died of natural causes July 3, 2009, in Washington, N.C. He was 85.

Josey, who taught courses such as Academic Librarianship and Libraries in Society, served on the SIS faculty from 1986 to 1995, when he retired. He continued to support the school in a number of capacities, including as its Minority Concerns Council adviser and as leader of the SIS affirmative action committee, which in 2001 was awarded the Chancellor’s Affirmative Action Award.

Colleagues remembered Josey as a committed scholar, mentor, educator and activist.

SIS associate professor Ellen Detlefsen met Josey in 1969 at an American Library Association (ALA) conference she was attending with a group of student activists there to present a manifesto on the need for social justice in the library science profession.

“We all worked together, actively in support of the 1970s-era civil rights, social justice, intellectual freedom and women’s rights activities in ALA,” Detlefsen said.

She was delighted when Josey later was hired to join her on the SIS faculty. “E.J.’s experience in academic and state libraries allowed us to offer coursework in those areas, and his long-standing continuous service with ALA kept the school in the forefront of professional association activities,” Detlefsen said. “E.J.’s most valuable contributions to the school and the University, however, were his unstinting efforts to recruit black students to the master’s and doctoral programs in library and information science. Having E.J. come to join us was a high point for us as it made clear the University’s commitment to civil and human rights. His legacy is probably best seen in the lives of those whom he brought into our profession.”

Professor and colleague Richard J. Cox said, “I first met E. J. when I joined the staff of the New York State Archives in Albany in 1986, just as he was preparing to move to the School of Information Sciences. People spoke of him with respect and affection in Albany for his interest in mentoring young professionals, and I soon learned why he had earned a great reputation in the library profession when I became a colleague of his here at Pitt. He will be missed. Few devote as much attention to the personal needs and concerns of their students as E.J. did. He was a role model for all of us.”

A native of Norfolk, Va., Josey as a youth moved to Portsmouth, Va., growing up in what was then a segregated town. His early exposure to racism informed his whole life, leading him to wide-ranging service in the civil rights movement, particularly as it applied to black librarians and inaccessible libraries.

At a 1964 ALA conference, Josey authored a resolution forbidding ALA officers and staff from participating in state library associations that denied membership to black librarians. This action led to the integration of the library associations in several Southern states, and he became the first black librarian to be accepted as a member of the Georgia Library Association.

Josey served on the policy-making ALA Council for 29 years beginning in 1970. His ALA service reached its high points in 1984-85 when he was named the first black male president of the association and in 2002 when the American Library Association bestowed on him its highest award, honorary membership in the association.

In 1980 he was the recipient of the Joseph W. Lippincott award, a top honor of the ALA.

The citation of the Lippincott award read in part: “[Josey’s] fervent advocacy was a major factor in eradicating racial discrimination from many library facilities and services, and from a number of professional associations. As founder of the Black Caucus in ALA [in 1970], and as its leader throughout the group’s formative years, he gave a new strength, unity, purpose and hope to many minority members of our profession.”

The ALA Black Caucus annually awards two E.J. Josey Scholarships to African-American students enrolled in or accepted by ALA-accredited programs.

Josey also was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for more than 40 years, and served as president of its Albany, N.Y., branch, 1982-86.

He received numerous awards from the NAACP, including in 1965 the NAACP national office Award for Work With Youth. In 1966, he received the Georgia NAACP conference award, and in 1983 and 1986 he was honored with an award from the Albany NAACP board.

Regionally, the Pennsylvania Library Association honored Josey with its Distinguished Service Award in 1996.

Upon his retirement from Pitt in 1995, the School of Information Sciences established a scholarship in his honor, the E. J. Josey Endowment Scholarship for Minorities.

Prior to his Pitt appointment, Josey was director of the library of Delaware State College from 1955 to 1959, and from 1959 to 1966 he was chief librarian and associate professor at Savannah State University in Savannah, Ga. He also served on the staff of the Columbia University library, the Free Library of Philadelphia, the New York Public Library and, prior to his position at Delaware State, he served as instructor of social sciences and history, 1954-55, at Savannah State.

In 1966, Josey was hired by the New York State Education Department’s Division of Library Development; in 1968 he was named chief of the Bureau of Academic and Research Libraries, a position he held until 1976. That year he was appointed chief of the Bureau of Specialist Library Services at the New York State Library.

Josey earned a degree in history at Howard University in 1949. He earned a master’s, also in history, from Columbia University in 1950, followed by a master’s degree in library science from the State University of New York-Albany, earned in 1953.

Following high school in Virginia, Josey served in the U.S. Army, 1943-46.

Josey was the author or editor of 12 books, including in 1970 “The Black Librarian in America,” the first book covering the subject exclusively, and its 1994 sequel, “The Black Librarian in America Revisited.” He also edited the quarterly journal, The Bookmark, 1976-86.

Josey is survived by his daughter, Amina Josey Turner (nee Elaine Jacqueline Josey) and her husband, Lawrence Richard Turner III; his brother, Robert C. Josey; six grandchildren; three step-grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.

The family suggests donations in Josey’s memory go to the E.J. Josey Foundation for Justice and Peace, 526 W. Second St., Washington, NC 27889.

—Peter Hart

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