Louisville library holds important place in history

Published: Nov. 14, 2013 at 1:53 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 29, 2013 at 1:57 AM EST
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - When The Louisville Western Branch Library opened on 10th and Chestnut in 1905, it took its place in history.

"It has a special place in history," Branch Manager Crystal Barbee Britton explained.

In the south everything was segregated and throughout the nation you couldn't find a public library which would dream of opening its doors of self-enlightenment to people of color.

Britton proudly declares, "It was the first African-American library in the country."

The Louisville Western branch library was the first free public library in the nation for African-Americans. It was staffed entirely by African-Americans. It also stands as the first to train other African-American librarians from all over the south.

"Some people in our community know that. They value this library and they look at it as a treasure," Britton said as she smiled.

Inside this treasure, lays even more treasures.

"The tables have been here since the early 1900's. We have the papers from the original first librarian. His name was Thomas Fountain Blue. We also have several papers of Joseph F. Cotter Sr., who was very important to our community," Britton exclaimed.

Both Blue and Cotter played a very important part in the community history and the history of African-American education in America. Rev. Thomas F. Blue led the branch and the work of educating African-Americans in the science of librarianship.  His apprenticeship for librarians lasted until the 1930's. Joseph S. Cotter Sr. was also important to the library and known as Kentucky's first Negro poet.  He was also a local educator who sponsored an annual children's storytelling competition.

Britton explained the formal attire of the people in the pictures during their visits to the library, "They're all dressed up because they knew education was important."

The prominent Douglass Debating Club for young Negro men, named after the great social reformer, orator, writer and statesman Fredrick Douglass always came dressed in hard shoes, tie, vest, coat and pants.

Britton stressed, "The way you dressed was the way people viewed you and they came in serious."

The African-American archives reading room, which is open to the public houses an extensive collection of books focusing on the African-American experience, some of the items published over a century ago.

"My favorite book that I like to show everyone is the autographed biography of Coretta Scott King.  She signed it for the branch in 1969," said Britton carefully holding a copy of the book.

To see the library's rare books and documents the public is invited to visit the library every second Friday of the month for a tour and a viewing of the documentary "A Separate Flame".  There is still story time at the library, as well as computer classes and seminars. Staff at the library will help with college applications or job resumes.

The library is located at 604 South 10th Street, across from the Chestnut Street YMCA.

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