In 1967, following rioting in Detroit, President Lyndon B. Johnson formed the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known as the Kerner Comission, to investigate the causes of “civil unrest.” The ensuing report famously warned, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” A month after the report was released, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis Tennessee.
Horace Seldon, a forty-five year old white minister living in Boston, was shaken by the division in American society, and formed Community Change, Inc. (CCI) to address what he saw not as a “black problem,” but one of systematic white racism. CCI’s mission statement says,
“The mission of Community Change is to promote racial justice and equity by educating, mobilizing, and organizing white people to challenge structural racism… CCI does what few organizations are willing to do: shine a spotlight on the roots of racism in white culture to deal with racism at its source and with racism’s impact on communities of color.”
The Yvonne Pappenheim Library on Racism, which began with the inception of CCI in 1968, currently contains over 3,000 titles that specifically address racism and white privilege, from slavery to the Civil Rights Movement to the present, including both fiction and nonfiction. Seldon developed the archive in conjunction with two Boston school librarians, Esther Nowell and Mrs. Harry Elam. When the collection moved from being “a few books on a desk” to a full library, Yvonne Pappenheim began volunteering there, managing and expanding the library. It was named for her in 1999.
Today, the Yvonne Pappenheim Library on Racism also includes digital resources and films. The space itself is made available as a meeting place for Boston’s social justice community.