Reality (Re)Checked: Thoughts on the Advice Column from the 2003 Flagpole

Hello, my name is Sarah Gehlhausen, and I am the Athens-Clarke County Library Heritage Room Digitization Intern this semester. You may have seen me sitting at the microfilm scanner, headphones in and staring at newspapers. I’m currently working on scanning the Flagpole into .jpegs for

The Flagpole is the Athens Area’s more “alternative” newspaper, and has existed since 1987. It covers any and all topics from national and regional politics to which band is playing at the 40 Watt on Friday night. The newspaper is in touch with what I believe to be the true spirit of the Athens community, both on campus and beyond.

Each issue of the newspaper is between 28 and 40 pages long, and each page has to be individually cropped, straightened, and scanned from the microfilm. In an effort to get as many issues scanned as I can during a shift, I don’t have the time to read every single page. However, there is one section I can’t miss.

I always read the advice column hidden in the back of every issue, which is aptly titled “Reality Check: Matters of the Heart and Loins”. When I first started reading, I was very interested in seeing if/how relationship problems have changed since the early 2000s. People who don’t text you back don’t exist, so what other problems could people have? Additionally, the woman who writes the column, Jyl Inov, is absolutely hilarious and about as blunt as it gets. She makes it very clear that she is not there to sugar coat anything, and will call you out for being an idiot.

In the interest of showcasing her wit, I have selected three of my favorite letters and responses:

In the first letter I chose, from November 3, 2003, a girl writes into Reality Check to talk about her jerk of a boyfriend (her words, not mine). She says that everyone knows it, including him, and that she knows that she really shouldn’t be dating him. She says he makes her feel crazy, but that she won’t leave him. So she asks Jyl “What’s my deal, and dear lord, what might be his?” Jyl suggests that it might be a lack of self esteem, and that it’s a huge first step to accept that she has a problem. She says it doesn’t matter why someone treats you badly, because it’s not your job to fix them. Jyl goes on to suggest that she leave this boyfriend, and go to visit counseling to resolve her relationship hang-ups. I was struck by this letter and response for two reasons: this girl still exists and we all know one, and that Jyl’s answer is what we wish we could tell that friend. For whatever reason, people will continue to have absolute jerks for significant others, and for whatever reason, they will refuse to leave them. This is no different now as it was then. As their friends, we are concerned for this person because we care about them and their health and safety and we ultimately know that they could do so much better. This is why Jyl’s answer is so good. She very specifically says that this girl does not need to stay with this person. She does not need to fix them, and that she deserves love from people who will actually respect her. The counseling suggestion is a good idea, as emotionally and mentally abusive relationships are hard to get out of. She even makes a recommendation to a local clinic. We all want to tell that one friend to leave the jerk boyfriend (or girlfriend), and we should all make note of Jyl’s response.

The next letter, from September 24, 2003, is a letter from a girl who has recently broken up with her boyfriend. He broke up with her because he said he didn’t love her anymore, and she “can’t even begin to describe the feelings of anger, frustration, sadness, loss, pain, rejection and abandonment that I feel.” She goes on to say that she still has the password to his email, and that she reads what he’s saying to other girls. The first thing Jyl tells her is to “STOP READING HIS EMAIL. RIGHT NOW.” She says that she knows that it’s hard and that moving on sucks, but she’s never going to get over him if she keeps reading the emails. Jyl then goes on to tell all her readers that “when you break up, you change the damned passwords, and you take back your keys.” The cleaner the break, the easier it is to move on. This is yet another example of a situation we’ve all been in or at least seen. It’s the breakup you never saw coming, and it hurts like hell. Only now, instead of email passwords, it’s being Facebook and Instagram friends and seeing pictures and posts of their life without you. It hurts, but Jyl’s right. Block them off your timelines and dashboards, even if it’s for a little while. Live your life, move on, and go find someone new.

The third letter is from November 19, 2003, and is from a guy whose boyfriend wants to move to New York City, and wants him to come with him. Apparently, the boyfriend has spent his entire life in the South, hates big cities, and has never been to New York City. Naturally, the writer is very confused and thinks that it might just be a complicated way for the guy to break up with him. Jyl seems to think that the whole situation is happening because either the writer is correct and he’s trying to break up, or that the boyfriend is experiencing what she calls “senior panic”. College life is at an end, real adult life is starting, and the possibilities are endless. Again, this is a situation we’re all aware of, and might even be in currently. When life undergoes drastic change, sometimes relationships fall apart. Either they work or they don’t. Then you see the paragraph above about moving on.

Honestly, relationships haven’t changed much over the years. We worry now about why they won’t text us back, and what it means when they favorite our tweets, but in the end, we have the same problems. We date jerks, we break up and have to move on, and we have “make it or break it” moments, but we hopefully have people like Jyl in our lives that will tell us the truth and give us the advice that we need.

History of the Dunbar Branch Library

The Dunbar Branch Library, named for the famous poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar, opened on August 16, 1942 in the Knox Institute building, formerly a private school for black residents founded in 1867 by the Athens Freedman’s Bureau, at the corner of Pope and Reese streets. The library was one of only thirteen libraries for black citizens in the state of Georgia and was sponsored by the city of Athens, Clarke County Commissioners, and the Athens-Clarke County board. Other libraries for blacks were located in Atlanta, Macon, Waycross, and Savannah. The Junior Assembly contributed $25 to the establishment of Dunbar Branch. Roxie Jarrell was the first library clerk and her salary was paid by the Works Progress Administration. The regional librarian served as her supervisor and books for the library came from the Athens Regional Library System budget. Black citizens in the community organized a group called Friends of the Library, with Mrs. Grace Parker as chairman, which paid for furniture and overhead costs. The library was open 1:30-6:30 PM Monday-Friday and 9:00 AM-2:00 PM on Saturday.

Dunbar Branch, July 1945

Library service to black schools began in 1948. Boxes of books were taken to schools and eventually teachers were allowed to choose books from the bookmobile. This was an important and essential service for black Athenians. In 1949, the library received a face-lift with new lights, furniture, floor covering, and paint. Circulation this year was 5,976 volumes. In 1957, the library moved to the home economics building of the Athens High and Industrial Collection on Reese Street where it stayed until it was relocated to 196 E. Washington Street in 1962. This building was formerly the old Union Hall building, which housed black lawyers, dentists, doctors, and other professionals in addition to the Morton Building and the Samaritan Building. Miss Pauline Cobb was hired as the Dunbar Branch librarian in 1961. The new downtown location was ideal because it was near several black-owned businesses and the library could better serve the community in a more central location. This location also had room for storage so the main library kept newspapers and magazines stored here. Miss Cobb’s health forced her to resign and Mrs. Agnes Amos briefly took over until she accepted a position with the Clarke County school system. Miss Arabella Murray was soon after hired as librarian.

Dunbar Branch, Vacation Reading Club, 1954

Dunbar Branch, Vacation Reading Club, 1955

The downtown location was eventually purchased by a car dealership. In 1964, a proposal to merge the Dunbar Branch with the main library was considered, but they decided to relocate the library instead. In 1965, Dr. Donerell Green rented an upper level of his office on 1127 W. Hancock Ave. to the library. The rent, with the exception of the telephone, was $150 a month. The library remained there until 1972, when the Dunbar Branch consolidated with the Athens-Clarke County library at its new location on 120 West Dougherty Street. Finally, under the directorship of Miss Sarah Maret, Athens had one library to serve the entire community.

Dunbar Branch, Date Unknown

Dunbar Branch, Date Unknown


Athens-Clarke County Library. Manuscript, Dunbar Branch Library. Held in the History of the Athens-Clarke County Library collection at the Athens-Clarke County Library Heritage Room.

Athens-Clarke County Library. Manuscript, History of Athens Regional Library. Held in the History of the Athens-Clarke County Library collection at the Athens-Clarke County Library Heritage Room.

Athens-Clarke County Library. Manuscript, Timeline. Held in the History of the Athens-Clarke County Library collection at the Athens-Clarke County Library Heritage Room.

Braxton, J.M., ed. (1993). The collected poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. – Available here.

Civil war & beyond. Athens-Clarke County Unified Government.

“Dunbar Branch of Public Library Now in Readiness.” September 20, 1942. Clipping from Athens-Banner Herald. Held in the History of the Athens-Clarke County Library collection at the Athens-Clarke County Library Heritage Room.

Dunbar, P.L. (2004). Dunbar out loud [Recorded by Bobby Norfolk]. Little Rock, Ark: August House Audio. – Available here.

Gleason, E.A. (1941). The southern Negro and the public library. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. – Available for reference in the Athens-Clarke County Library Heritage Room.

Gould, J. (1958). That Dunbar boy: America’s famous Negro poet. New York: Dodd, Mead. – Available here.

Murray, A. (1991). Letter, Recollections of Dunbar Branch Library, to Athens Regional Library. Held in the History of the Athens-Clarke County Library collection at the Athens-Clarke County Library Heritage Room.

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