Timeline in Library Development for African Americans


Timeline in Library Development
for African Americans

Library Service
Milestones
United States
Library Development


1731: The Library Company of Philadelphia is founded.

1807: The Athenaeum Library is founded in Boston.

1815: Thomas Jefferson sells his book collection to the Library of Congress after its original collection was destroyed by the British army.
1816: A school and library are established for African Americans in Wilmington, Delaware.

1828: The Reading Room Society, the first social library for African Americans, opens in Philadelphia.

1831: The Female Literary Society, the first social library for African-American women, is founded in Philadelphia.
1833: The Philadelphia Library Company of Colored Persons is organized as a literary society.
1833: The first tax-supported public library in the United States is founded in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

1848: Boston Public Library becomes the first publicly supported major urban library.

1857: The Watkinson Library is founded as a “a library of reference” for the community of Hartford, Connecticut.

1873: Chicago Public Library opens.

1876: The American Library Association is founded.

1876: Library Journal is founded.

1876: Melvil Dewey's Decimal System is published.
1886: The main library and the first four branches of the Enoch Pratt Free Library open in Baltimore, providing service to users of all races.

1894: North Carolina A&T State University's Bluford Library is founded in Greemsboro.


1895: The Astor and Lenox libraries and the Tilden Trust merge to form the New York Public Library.
1896: The U.S. Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson establishes the “separate but equal” law that legalizes segregated libraries.
1901: Andrew Carnegie gives $1 million to the St. Louis Public Library to build a central library and five branches.
1901: A Carnegie library is built at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
1902: A black patron is featured in a stereoview of the Boston Public Library.
1902: The cornerstones are laid for NYPL's Humanities and Social Sciences Library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.
1903: The Cossitt Library of Memphis, Tennessee, provides books and a librarian for a collection to be housed in the LeMoyne Institute for African-American students.
1903: A new central Carnegie library is dedicated in Washington, D.C.
1904: Carnegie library buildings begin construction at Alabama A&M, Atlanta University, Benedict College, Talladega College, and Wilberforce University.

1904: In Henderson, Kentucky, a one-room annex opens August 1 at the rear of the Eighth Street Colored School to serve as a library—the first structure built specifically to offer public library service to African Americans.
1905: A branch of the Rosenberg Library in Galveston, Texas, opens in an addition to Central High School in January to serve as a public library for African Americans.

1905: The Brevard Street Library for Negroes opens in Charlotte as an independent institution. It is the first public library for blacks in North Carolina.

1905: The Western Colored Branch Library of the Louisville (Ky.) Free Public Library, the first branch of a public library system to offer service exclusively to African Americans, opens September 1 in three rooms of a private residence.

1905: Carnegie libraries are established at Cheyney State Teacher's College, Johnson C. Smith University, Livingston College, and Fisk University.
1905: The first public library on wheels is a horse-drawn book wagon designed by Mary Lemist Titcomb, head of the Hagerstown (Md.) Public Library.
1906: A Carnegie library is erected at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas.

1907: Carnegie libraries begin construction at Howard University and Knoxville College.

1908: Louisville's Western Colored Branch Library relocates to a new building paid for by Carnegie.

1910: James H. Gregory of Marblehead, Massachusetts, funds a traveling library service for southern blacks, known as the Marblehead libraries, that is administered by Atlanta University.
1910: A special reading room is established for unemployed immigrants at the Minneapolis Public Library.

1911: The NYPL Humanities and Social Sciences Library opens.
1914: The Eastern Colored Branch of the Louisville Free Library opens, making Louisville the first city to have two branch libraries that offer service to African Americans.

1914: Howard University's Moorland-Spingarn Research Center has its origins in a gift of 3,000 items from the Rev. Jesse E. Moorland.


1916: The first presidential library, the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center Library, opens in Fremont, Ohio.

1921: The first meeting of ALA's Work with Negroes Round Table is held.

1923: Bibliotherapy pioneer Sadie Peterson Delaney establishes a library in the Veterans Hospital in Tuskegee, Alabama.
1926: The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture begins when the personal collection of black scholar Arturo Alfonso Schomburg is added to NYPL's Division of Negro Literature.

1926: Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary Library is founded in Philadelphia.

1926: Louisville Free Public Library Director George T. Settle reads a paper on the “Status of Work with Negroes” at the Fourth Biennial Conference of the Southeastern Library Association.
1926: Los Angeles Public Library is dedicated.
1927: The first Negro Library Conference is held at the Hampton Institute Library School in Virginia, March 15-18.
1927: The Central library of the Free Library of Philadelphia is dedicated.

1927: Birmingham (Ala.) Public Library's central building is completed.
1928: The West Virginia Supreme Court rules that Charleston libraries cannot exclude black patrons since, as taxpayers, they are equally entitled to library service.

1929: Julius Rosenwald, a merchant and philanthropist, helps fund libraries in 13 southern states to be used in both urban and rural areas, regardless of race.

1932: The first Faith Cabin Library opens in Saluda County, South Carolina.

1932: Vivan G. Harsh, Chicago Public Library's first black librarian, establishes a research collection of African-American history and literature that is now housed at CPL's Carter G. Woodson Regional Library.

1932: Howard University School of Divinity Library is founded.
1935: Kennedy-King College Library opens in Chicago as Woodrow Wilson Junior College Library.
1935: The Works Progress Administration library service program gives support in labor and funds to all types of libraries.
1941: Yale University announces the acquisition of the James Weldon Johnson Collection of African-American writers and artists.

1950: First drive-through windows are established for book returns at Cincinnati's Public Library.
1954: Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision declares “separate but equal” facilities based solely on race unconstitutional.


1955: The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County opens a new main library.
1956: ALA holds its first integrated annual conference in Miami Beach after years of avoiding the South as a meeting place due to racial segregation.

1960: The first library sit-in is held in Petersburg, Virginia, resulting in the arrest of 11 students for trespassing.

1960: The Danville (Va.) Public Library reopens in September on a trial basis with no tables and chairs in its reading room in order to allow for gradual integration. A local court had ordered the library closed after five blacks were denied entry.

1961: ALA amends the Library Bill of Rights to support “the rights of an individual to the use of a library should not be denied or abridged because of his race, religion, national origins, or political views.”

1962: In response to a number of library sit-ins, the Carnegie Library in Albany, Georgia, closes in August, but opens to blacks for the first time in March 1963 after 1,600 whites sign a petition asking the library to integrate its services.

1963: While trying to apply for library cards September 15 at the all-white public library in Anniston, Alabama, two young ministers are attacked by an angry mob.
1963: Detroit Public Library issues skates to library student assistants so they can move quickly in the 230-foot-long stacks.

1964: Twenty-five Freedom Libraries are established throughout Mississippi by a group of librarian volunteers in the civil rights movement.

1966: In Brown v. Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that five African-American demonstrators arrested during a 1964 sit-in at the Audubon Regional Library in Clinton, Louisiana, should not be charged with disturbing the peace. It is the only library segregation case to be argued in the U.S. Supreme Court.

1969: The Cooperative College Library Center, the first consortium of black academic libraries, opens in Atlanta.

1970: The Black Caucus of the American Library Association is formed at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Chicago “to mobilize the power necessary to ensure that the fullest and most relevant library service is made available to black people.”

1972: The Martin Luther King Memorial Library opens in Washington, replacing the old District of Columbia Central Public Library.

1976: Clara Stanton Jones is inaugurated as ALA's first African-American president and the Association adopts a “Resolution on Racism and Sexism Awareness.”

1977: The Intellectual Freedom Committee recommends to ALA's Executive Board that the resolution be rescinded, but President Clara Stanton Jones demands that the fight against racism and sexism in librarianship be upheld. The resolution stands.

1994: The Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture and History opens as a special branch of the Atlanta-Fulton County Public Library System.

1999: The Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, the largest collection of its kind in the Midwest, opens as an expanded wing of Chicago Public Library's Woodson Regional Library.

2002: The African-American Research Library and Cultural Center opens as a branch of the Broward County Libraries in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

2003: The Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library opens as part of the Denver Public Library system.

Timeline compiled by MAURICE B. WHEELER, associate professor at the University of Texas School of Library and Information Sciences, and DEBBIE JOHNSON-HOUSTON, library information representative at Firefly Books, with the assistance of UNT Master's student HEATHER BOYD.