The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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The Books for Birmingham Project

An interview with Carlton Olson and Alice Rader, conducted by Mike Dicianna.

March 20, 2014


In 1964 OSU students involved themselves directly in the Civil Rights Movement through their participation in the Books for Birmingham project. Miles College, located in Birmingham, Alabama, was described in a November 1964 Time magazine article as "the only four-year college available to most of the 2,000 youngsters who graduate each year from the area's 17 Negro high schools. It produces 60% of the city’s Negro school teachers." Despite the crucial role that it filled for the local African American community, the school suffered from underfunding. The college library was in especially poor condition, such that its deficiencies risked the accreditation of the entire school.

Recognizing this need, students at Yale University collected 6,000 books for the Miles College library and delivered them personally. In a similar fashion, the OSU YMCA-YWCA Round Table planned a project of its own, to be organized through the newly built Kerr Library. Student volunteers conducted the OSU book drive from January 20th through February 2nd, 1964. In the words of John Wooster, the YMCA Round Table student chairman, "This project has been undertaken as a way for OSU students and faculty to express their concerned interest in the struggle for human dignity and equal opportunity for all." Lucius Pitts, President of Miles College at the time, travelled to Corvallis to express gratitude to the student body: "God Bless your efforts to bless us here in Birmingham," he said, "and thus bless our whole world."

During Spring Break 1964, a delegation of nine OSU students and advisors traveled across the United States at their own expense to personally deliver the donation to Birmingham. The Corvallis Gazette Times reported on April 20th that, "all 800 students at Miles College, Birmingham, Ala., gave an emotional standing ovation to Oregon State University when the 14,000 books collected on this campus were presented formally to the southern school at a general assembly."

The OSU students who participated in the delivery included Alice Elle and Carlton Olson.

Alice (Elle) Rader, class of 1967, was born in Lakeview, Oregon. A member of the OSU Marching Band, Alice attended the 1965 Rose Bowl, playing in the Tournament of Roses parade. She was a student worker at the Kerr Library and was involved with numerous campus groups, including the YWCA. Following graduation, Alice remained active in the peace movement. She currently lives in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Corvallis native Carlton Olson was also a member of multiple student organizations, including the Corvallis chapter of Students for a Democratic Society. He graduated from OSU with the class of 1972.