But my friend Ivy's mother, LePoint Smith, had a different plan. She did all the above, and then some. After her three daughters were old enough to pretty much take care of themselves, she went to library school and became the director of the Bolivar County Library. Among many other things. She died over the weekend and the library was closed in her honor. You can read an amazing tribute to her.
She, as well as her co-conspirator Anise Powell, the head of the Sunflower County Library, were my library mentors. When I went to Simmons to get my MLS- that would be Simmons in Boston, MA-- some of my classmates scoffed at my summer employment with the Sunflower County Library. Not too many, but some. I had a lot of defending to do back then.
So when I think about people like LePoint Smith and her friend Anise Powell, who pretty much ran the library show in my neck of the woods in the turbulent 60s and kept their libraries open when some had a different idea, I'm so proud to have known them.
I'm not sure we even realized what was going on in our small towns back then. Years later, when I read a book about Duncan Gray, the priest at our tiny Episcopal Church, another staunch defender of Civil Rights, my dad was mentioned as someone who defended him against his detractors. And I had no real idea about any of that.
But somebody must have been whispering in our ears, telling us what was the right thing to do. Telling us everybody needed to know how to read, and the library was the perfect place to learn.
Since the above link to the tribute to LePoint Smith is no longer active, here is a bit from that newspaper article. I chose this part to share because not only did I work as a summer intern for Mrs. Powell in Sunflower County, I also got to meet some of our town's "Freedom Riders," courtesy of LePoint Smith.
“She was a beautiful lady and she was a tireless worker,” said Roosevelt Grenell, who has known Smith for a number of years. He said he will always remember her from the late ‘60s when the Freedom Riders, a group of college kids, came through town to assist in voter registration. Times were different then and a lot of people were not comfortable with them being in town.
However, Grenell said, not Smith. She was not hesitant to help them in anyway she could. They used the library and she never said a word, only offered support.
He also said that she was one of the reasons people continued to return to the library.
“She took her role at the library very seriously,” he said. “When you walked in the front door, there she was, always smiling. She made everyone feel welcome to visit the library.”
Frieda Quon, who knew Smith for over 40 years, said Smith was “a pioneer library woman.”
She said Smith took the small library and worked to make it grow.
“She was very intelligent, very literate and very aware politically,” she added. “She was a very take action-type person. She knew what was right and made sure her family was very civic-minded as well.”
Quon also remembers Smith as being ahead of her time, wanting equal rights for all people.
“She accompanied black officials during the ‘60s to Washington D.C. to establish the local Head Start program,” Quon explained. “Heads turned to see a white female with a black group. It meant a lot to her to have equal rights in Bolivar County.
“LePoint instinctively knew what was right and she fought for it,” Quon said. “She felt that integration of the library system was imperative. She knew how to make it happen and she did so in a smooth manner. She didn’t cause too many feathers to ruffle. She just had a way about her.”
Quon said that Smith and Anise Powell, the director of the Sunflower County Library, were frequent visitors of the Mississippi Library Commission in Jackson.
“Those two were sometimes called the Delta Mafia,” she added. “The commissioners once said, ‘We learned some things from LePoint and Anise. These two gentle Southern ladies would ask politely at the front door what they needed from us and if necessary they would go to the back door, occasionally through a window and if that didn’t work they would go down the chimney.’”