Keeping retirement weird.


Yesterday’s student sit-in at DuSable to keep the library open and to keep a librarian on staff.

In his award-winning book, Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, “The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free.”

Coates writes that while he loved his time at the historically Black university, Howard, he loved its library most.

I cannot imagine a high school without a library.

I know that many aren’t even called libraries anymore. Learning Resource Center is what many say over the door.

No matter.

When the school I taught at for fifteen years went went from card catalogs to digital, I took a card catalog home with me.

Fairfax High School’s library was were I met Ray Bradbury. And Carson McCullers and Mark Harris.

My librarian, whose name is gone from an old man’s memory, got me through many a boring research paper. Only the ones I actually chose to write.

Rahm and CPS have worked long and hard to destroy Chicago’s historic DuSable High School.

DuSable’s boys basketball team was Public League champions in 1953 and 1954.

Captain Walter Dyett was the longtime music instructor.

Graduates include Redd Foxx, Don Cornelius, Nat King Cole, Von Freeman, Ella Jenkins, Dinah Washington.

Margaret Burroughs was the art teacher for many years.

Yes. Margaret Burroughs.

Harold Washington was another notable DuSable grad.

Julie Vassilatos writes:

Sara Sayigh has been holding down the fort at three co-located schools in a glorious historic building in the heart of Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. She runs the library programs at two charters and a public all mingled together in one great building–named by Rahm as a Chicago Landmark in 2013. DuSable High used to serve the old Robert Taylor Homes and before that was the home of Captain Walter Dyett’s nation-changing music program. (You think I’m exaggerating? He educated Nat Cole. But that is a story for another day.) In 2005, the former DuSable was closed and the school broken up into three small schools, back when Arne Duncan thought small schools were just the thing.


DuSable Leadership Academy/Betty Shabazz International Charter Schools, Bronzeville Scholastic Academy, and Daniel Hale Williams Preparatory School all share the premises, and share the old beautiful library, named and dedicated in honor of one Irma Frazier Clarke, the first head librarian at the old DuSable High. She served from 1935 when the school opened to 1968 when she retired, and went on to live until 2001. She was 100 then. She created a 25,000 volume collection including an invaluable set of volumes on African American literature, history, and philosophy. I think she would be horrified to hear that the last remaining librarian’s position was just cut. 

We know how this goes. It’s happened hundreds of times already in CPS. In their roughly 600 schools, CPS only retains about 250 librarians. In most cases when the librarian goes, the library is soon to follow. After all, how do you maintain a facility without any staff? And often the space is needed for more classroom space. Gutting school libraries and failing to staff them is an old CPS pastime.

Now DuSable has no librarian.



6 Replies to “Keeping retirement weird.”

  1. Without a library I would never have learned how to read. I failed the reading test in the third grade. The librarian at Abbott School, which is unfortunately closed now, told me to go home and study and she would let me retake the test, which I did. I retook the school test and scored at the eighth-grade level on the test. Achieving that score inspired me so much, I read every book in the school library before I graduated-300 books total. A school without a library is as stupid as the person(s) that came up with that stupid suggestion. Closing schools? That is the silliest thing since Bozo the clown was on television.

  2. A Librarian is a valuable personal resource to students and faculty with the knowledge of great books on all subject matters. This latest move is an attempt to continue to chip away at the great academic legacy of DuSable High School by taking away valuable resources. While the University of Chicago continues to expanded it’s great library and add personnel these resources are being cut from DuSable. A book can be read privately at will while access to information online is tracked and can be censored and controled.
    Once again students of color are deprived access to knowledge and resources, for the Librarian is the captain of the ship helping students and teachers navigate and select from the academic archives. It is my hope that the DuSable principal,staff and students will continue to fight to right this wrong. Readers are Leaders!

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