SELMA, Ala. — She was a “little old lady” librarian who took on those who espoused hatred with a twinkle in her eyes.
Her name was Patricia Blalock and when she died six years ago at the age of 97, she had quietly demonstrated a verity in life that smiles have a way of overcoming anger.
That’s the way it was in Selma during the 1960s, when racial unrest and segregation made the town a pariah around the world.
Blalock was a trained social worker who wound up as director of the Selma-Dallas County Public Library, a woman who displayed the same quiet demeanor that won over dissenters by making them friends.
“She was a visionary with endless energy, ingenuity and imagination,” recalls Library Director Becky Nichols. Nichols said her mentor was a strong-willed woman with a “tremendous social conscience” and it rubbed off on her.
“She was aware that Selma would have to face the segregation issue,” said Nichols, who assumed leadership of the library after years of emulating Blalock’s leadership abilities.
Selma’s library at the time was a private facility, and Blalock knew a change had to be made if the pain of the past would ever be replaced with a progressive outlook.
“She knew in her heart of hearts that the library had to be integrated,” said Nichols. “It eventually became a city-county library after she had blazed a needed new trail and not in a demonstrative way, either.”
Blalock never sought fame or fortune but her civil rights efforts have been duly noted by way of a posthumous induction into the Alabama Social Work Hall of Fame. A few days ago she joined four other 2017 inductees at the NorthRiver Yacht Club in Tuscaloosa where memories of her determined civil rights efforts were saluted.
She managed the library at a time when much of Selma was segregated and she pressed on to integrate the library. It was a bold successful undertaking. Selma’s black residents did not have access to the library in those days, but Blalock quietly, determinedly opened it all to those who wanted to use it.
“Throughout the tumultuous decades of civil unrest in Selma, she maintained the library as a place of welcome for both races, developing programs to meet the needs of Selma’s diverse population,” said University of Alabama Associate professor emerita of social work Thelma Vaughan Mueller.
Her unexpected foray into a library career started in 1946 after she retired as a social worker and launched her peaceful integration campaign just prior to congressional passage of the Civil Rights Act followed a year later by the Voting Rights Act.
Watching, listening and learning from her was Nichols, who idolized Blalock during her early years at the library.
“She was like another mother for me, but, most of all, she was a tremendous mentor,” she said. “Our relationship stemmed from doing the same things.”
As the years passed and Blalock slowed to the point that retirement was just around the corner, she focused her attention on enticing Nichols to succeed her. Blalock had become such a fixture as a “double” professional that some got them confused.
“I was unaware of the award at first,” said Nichols, referring to her mentor’s excellence in the field of social work before she ever became director of a library.
Patricia Blalock died at her Jefferson County home on Sept. 7, 2011.
Other inductees in the Alabama Social Work Hall of Fame were Thomas F. Cook, Joyce Parrish O’Neal, Joanne Jeffries Terrell and Catherine “Kate” Ball.