Understanding and Action

As the United States grapples with waves of protests after the killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, at the hands of a police officer, many are reflecting on our collective history of racism, civil unrest, police violence, and civic action.  It can be hard to understand how we got here and where we go from here.

To help us, great writers, thinkers, and educators have given us books, videos, and resources that are available right now at your library.  If you are struggling right now to make sense of it all, here are some recommendations that might provide you with some perspective, some understanding, and some healing.

Cover of Ta-Nehisi Coates book, Between the World and MeBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Winner of the National Book Award and hailed by Toni Morrison as “essential reading”, this letter from a father to his son describes his revelations growing up and moving through U.S. history as a black man.  He takes readers along on his journey through America’s history of race and his series of personal awakenings — moments when he discovered some new truth about our long, tangled history of race, whether through his myth-busting professors at Howard University, a trip to a Civil War battlefield with a rogue historian, a journey to Chicago’s South Side to visit aging survivors of 20th century America’s ‘long war on black people,’ or a visit with the mother of a beloved friend who was shot down by the police.

Cover of Colson Whitehead's Book, The Underground RailroadThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. Their first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.  Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Cover of John Lewis's book, MarchMarch by Congressman John Lewis, Nate Powell, Andrew Aydin, and others

Winner of the National Book Award, this graphic novel trilogy depicts the story of the Civil Rights Movement from the perspective of the man who lived it.  In 1965, John Lewis and was savagely beaten by police as he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. across the Selma bridge on what came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.”  The novels not only depict this incident, but they tell the story of other pivotal events in the movement including the Freedom Riders, the Birmingham Church bombing, and the activities of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Cover of Angie Thomas's book, The Hate U GiveThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

This young adult novel, now a film (also available at the library), gives us a first-person account of 16-year old black woman who watches her friend, also black, killed by a police officer right in front of her eyes.  The death becomes national news, and she struggles to find her path through personal and abstract problems like systemic racism.  It won numerous awards for young adult fiction and was long-listed for the National Book Award.


Movie poster for 3 1/3 minutes depicting black and white photo of black teenager with an american flag tshirt.3 ½ Minutes and 10 Bullets

On Black Friday 2012, four African American teenagers stopped at a gas station to buy gum and cigarettes. One of them, Jordan Davis, argued with Michael Dunn, a white man parked beside them, over the volume of music playing in their car. The altercation turned to tragedy when Dunn fired 10 bullets at the unarmed boys, killing Davis almost instantly. This streaming documentary film explores the danger and subjectivity of Florida’s Stand Your Ground self – defense laws by weaving Dunn’s trial with a chorus of citizen and pundit opinions, alongside the wrenching experiences of Jordan Davis’ parents.  It was short-listed for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Movie poster of three toy police soldiers standing in front of the CapitolDo Not Resist

This streaming documentary explores the rapid militarization of the police in the United States. Starting on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, as the community grapples with the death of Michael Brown, this film offers a stunning look at the current state of policing in America and a glimpse into the future. This Tribeca Film Festival winner for Best Documentary puts viewers in the center of the action, from a ride-along with a South Carolina SWAT team to inside a police training seminar that teaches the importance of “righteous violence.”

Movie poster depicting an black and white american flag bleeding into a black figure wearing prison strips in shackles13th

This documentary, freely available on Youtube, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and a Primetime Emmy.  Named for the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery, it features interviews with scholars, activists and politicians analyzing the criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison boom.


Banner featuring database search box in Opposing Viewpoints

Opposing Viewpoints

If you are looking for up-to-date, reputable sources of information, facts, statistics, academic journal articles, video, audio, primary sources, and opinions about current events, this database is your one-stop shop.  It is searchable by keyword, but you can browse all 478+ topic pages on current events like Police Brutality, Black Lives Matter, Hate Groups, Civil Rights, Social Justice, Community Policing, Racial Profiling, Riots in the US, and more.

cover page of Final reportFinal Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing

This government-produced document from 2015 provides the recommendations of a federally appointed task force created to strengthen community policing and trust among law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.  Assembled by then President Barack Obama, its members included law enforcement, community activists, educators, and policy experts.  It includes six pillars of action including building trust with community, protecting the safety of officers, providing effective training, policy and oversight, effectively using technology, and community policing.

Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized the Country by Shelby Steel

In this conservative take on race-relations, author Shelby Steele asserts that the greatest barrier to racial equality today is not overt racism, but white liberals. Under the guise of benevolence, liberals today maintain their position of power over blacks by continuing to cast them as victims in need of saving. This ideology underlies liberal social policies from affirmative action to welfare, which actually exacerbate racial inequality rather than mitigating it. Drawing on empirical data as well as his own personal experience, Steele argues that these policies have not only failed, but have made it impossible to address the problems that plague the modern black community, and have ensured that black Americans will never be truly equal to their white countrymen, in their own minds or in practice.  Shelby Steele is a Robert J. and Marion E. Oster Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, and his earlier book, Content of Our Character, won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

If you have found yourself wondering else you can do to help change the world, the library has another option: voter registration.  There are voter registration forms located at the Circulation Desk and at the Reference Desk.  They are free for anyone.  Once you fill out your registration form, you can either turn it in to the County Clerk’s office or mail it in.  To participate in local, state, and federal elections, you must have your voter registration form turned at least 30 days prior to those elections.  For more information about voting in Arkansas, visit the Secretary of State’s website.  You can also sign up for election reminders at Vote.org.

Remember your library is open this summer with social distancing guidelines in place. Stay safe, stay informed, and stay connected to us—virtually—via chat, textphone, social media (InstagramFacebook, or Twitter), or email.

Russellville During the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

Cartoon of a man next to sailors with caption: "Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases as dangerous as poison gas shells.Like most libraries, the Ross Pendergraft Library is committed to keeping the memory of a community preserved and accessible to all.  In the middle of our current crisis, we decided to take a trip back in time to the 1918 influenza pandemic in Russellville, Arkansas, as reported by the local newspaper, known then as the Courier Democrat (Weekly).

Using the microfilmed newspaper collection on the first floor, we scanned through issues of the local newspaper during the height of the 1918 pandemic to find out how our local area and its residents fared under similar circumstances.

The Epidemic In Russellville

Text of a headline reading, "Schools Closed by Spanish Flu"

Then as now, schools closed and public gatherings were prohibited during the height of epidemic in October of 1918.  Arkansas Tech, then known as the Second District Agricultural School, also closed. By October 10th, 1918, the influenza was reported in every county with “hundreds” of cases being reported in Russellville.

By October 17th, the newspaper reported that, “Nothing like the present epidemic of influenza has ever before been experienced in Russellville.”  At least 17 funerals were performed on a single Friday due to the “Spanish influenza.”

Obituary notices list entire families, along with numerous children, who are simply named “Baby” along with the family surname.

Text: a list of obituraries for children which are identified as "Baby Cullum, Baby Sullivan, Baby Brixey, Baby Jones."

Another reflection of these astonishing and cruel times, African-Americans in our community who died during the pandemic were segregated to separate obituary sections:Text: "Colored People" and followed by a description of an obituary for an African American man named Albert Jackson who was buried along with his familyBy October 24th, even the newspaper reporting on the influenza pandemic began to feel the impact, and the lone reporter working on that issue noted, “With only ‘our-self’ left on the job, we feel that no apology is necessary for the small paper we are publishing this week.”

This date seems to be when deaths reached its apex in Russellville.  Twenty-seven deaths were reported in one week, with most burials taking place at Oakland Cemetery.

The “Spanish” Flu

Text: "Many deaths from Spanish Influenza. Epidemic still raging in town and country, though perhaps in milder form. 27 deaths during past week. In 1918, the virus was called the “Spanish Influenza” because Spain was one of the first countries to openly report on it, due to the fact that it was not under the same media censorship as other countries fighting World War I.  It was reported in the Courier-Democrat on October 17, 1918, that the Spanish authorities repudiated the myth that it originated in Spain and instead sent a dire warning: “If the people of this country do not take care, the epidemic will become so widespread throughout the United States that soon we shall hear the disease called the ‘American’ influenza.”  Despite this, the local newspaper refers to the disease consistently as the “Spanish influenza.”

Daily Life for Individuals

In other sections of the paper, a listing of daily notices and updates were the town’s primary way of spreading news at the local family level.  These little dispatches from each community provided a quick round-up of who felt better, who was still sick, who had a birth, or who was fixing up their farm.   From “Prairie Grove, Russellville” is the simple sentence, “Everyone is still sick.”  On Colony Mountain in Lamar, the correspondent reported, “There are a few cases, but none serious.”

Text: "There is so much talk of the flu a fellow is afraid to stick his head out for fear some one will sneeze in his face."

From East Point, Russellville, a report about the rigid enforcement of the vaccination law is met by an early anti-vaccination comment: “If this is the free country we have all been fighting for, the people should have a say-so about such as that.”

Precautions and “Cures”

Text: "Spanish Influenza rapidly spreading. Persons weak and run-down easy victims--fortify yourself against it by taking tanlac."The newspaper urged the same cautions one would take to avoid the cold, including advice like, “Avoid crowds, especially indoor gatherings where ventilation is poor.”

Before stricter regulation of pharmaceuticals, many ‘tonics’ were touted as cures and promised to relieve cold and flu symptoms.  One tonic  called “Tanlac,” was featured in an advertisement disguised as a legitimate news article, providing facts about the virus before urging readers to take Tanlac, which claimed to give you “… the fighting strength to ward off the influenza germ.”   Another advertised medicine to treat influenza included “Calotab”—a laxative which promised to leave your system, “purified and refreshed.”

The Lifting of Quarantine

By October 31st of 1918, the county health officer, J.R. Linzy, lifted the quarantine for Pope county and announced it was safe for schools to resume by Monday, November 4th.  Churches could open by Saturday, November 2nd, though the health official cautioned, “We request that no one attend any of the above places when there are cases of influenza in your home.”   Many deaths were still occurring, however, with the obituary section reporting twenty deaths for that week, with space limited to just names and dates.

"Tomorrow is the first--and there is no quarantine against bill collectors. Greet them cheerfully.

On November 14th, Liberty Hill’s correspondent reported, “The flu has just about gone.  School has opened and the children are glad.”  Most of the local news at this time report a mix of flu recoveries and deaths, but they also include the usual announcements about births, visitors, crop harvests, and Sunday school meetings.  Many people are hosting parties at this time, and life seems to begin to return to normal.

Text: "No charge for delivery anywhere in the city. Everything to everybody will be cash at store or on deliver. My prices are too close to go to extra expense of bookkeeper and collector."

As we endure another week of social distancing and social isolation, it can be comforting to have the perspective of the past—to learn from our common circumstances and to be hopeful of a future end to this pandemic.  For another glimpse back at the 1918 pandemic, you can find similar primary sources online from our New York Times Digital Archive, with full-text, digitized coverage from 1853-2013, or the American Periodical Series, a premier collection of American periodicals published between 1740 and 1940.

Stay safe and stay connected to us—virtually—via chat, text, phone, social media (InstagramFacebook, or Twitter), or email.  We’ll be happy to answer research questions, help you find reference resources, or share our favorite and wildest claims from 1918 health tonics.

Text: "The writer is about run down, trying to wait on the sick folks here, so you needn't expect much news from us."



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The Fifth Annual International Film Festival, March 4th – 19th

Poster for Yojimbo

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Explore Abandoned Arkansas on Monday, February 10th

Poster for the Abandoned Arkansas announcing times and locaiton

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Be Discovered With the Online Research Commons @ ATU

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The Finals Countdown

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POSTPONED UNTIL NOV. 18 – Hipbillies: Deep Revolution in the Arkansas Ozarks

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Desserts and Databases

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