Emily W. Reed, 89, a retired librarian who in the 1950s was attacked by Alabama segregationists for placing in state libraries a children's book about the marriage of a black rabbit and a white rabbit, died of heart ailments May 19 at the Broadmead retirement community in Cockeysville, Md.
Ms. Reed, who later worked in the D.C. library system, figured prominently in headlines, newscasts and editorials worldwide after Alabama lawmakers castigated the book, "The Rabbits' Wedding," for "possible anti-segregation motives."
At the time, Ms. Reed was director of the Alabama Public Library Service Division, and she removed the book from the open shelves of state libraries, but placed it on reserve shelves, where it could be obtained on request.
Written by Garth Williams and published by Harper & Brothers, the book described the moonlight wedding of a black rabbit and a white rabbit, attended by all the other animals of the forest. At the time, Williams said his story "has no political significance. . . . I was completely unaware that animals with white fur. . . . were considered blood relatives of white human beings."
He said his book "was not written for adults who will not understand it, because it is only about a soft, furry love, and it has no hidden messages of hate."
But its publication in the late 1950s coincided with controversy over civil rights and segregation. The U.S. Supreme Court had declared segregation in public schools as unconstitutional, and civil rights leaders were pressing for equal rights and access in other areas of public life. In Alabama and other states of the Deep South, white resistance was fierce and sustained.
"Personally, I like the book," Ms. Reed said in 1959. She said a newsletter of a Montgomery, Ala., segregationist organization "came out with a story about the book promoting integration." The newsletter story was published under the headline "What's Good Enough for Rabbits Should Do For Mere Humans."
Ms. Reed said: "We have had difficulty with the book . . . but we have not lost our integrity. I am interested in seeing the library division grow and expand, and we had to make a choice. Because of the aroused feelings to stop peddling the book . . . we put it on the reserve shelf."
Later in 1959, Ms. Reed came under fire again for including on a state-distributed recommended reading list "Stride to Freedom," a story of the bus boycott in Montgomery, which is generally considered a key protest early in the civil rights movement. The book was written by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who led the boycott.
After the book's inclusion on the reading list, measures were introduced in the Alabama legislature to require the state library chief to be an Alabama native and a graduate of the University of Alabama or Auburn University. That would have disqualified Ms. Reed, who was born in Asheville, N.C. But in early 1960, she left Alabama to become coordinator of adult services for the D.C. library system.
"I was given an attractive offer," she later said. "My leaving was not directly connected with the incidents last year. . . . The situation had quieted down. I just felt the time had come that I could be more effective somewhere else."
Ms. Reed grew up in Indiana and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Indiana University. She worked in libraries in Detroit, Hawaii and Louisiana and taught at the school of library service and training at the University of Florida before she became Alabama's library director in 1957.
For six years, she worked in the D.C. library system, then moved to Baltimore, where she was coordinator of adult services at the Enoch Pratt Free Library until she retired in 1977.
This year, she received the roll of honor award of the Freedom to Read Foundation, and she was cited by the American Library Association for her work as Alabama's library director.
There are no immediate survivors.