Monday, April 28, 2014

Rachel Davis Harris and the Colored Branches of the Louisville Free Public Library, Louisville, Kentucky


Rachel Davis Harris (1869-1969) was the first African American female director of a public library branch in Kentucky. She was appointed director of the Colored Branches of the Louisville Free Public Library in 1935 after the death of the previous director, Reverend Thomas Fountain Blue.


Harris , the daughter of Susan Davis (later Susan Johnson), was born in 1869 in Louisville, Kentucky. Harris was an 1885 graduate of Central High School. On December 27, 1893, she married Reverend Everett Harris (1866-1936). A native of Virginia, Reverend Harris was the pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church (the church is still in operation). In 1896 the couple had a son, John Everett Harris.

In 1905, the Louisville Free Public Library opened the Western Colored Branch. The purpose of this branch was to provide library services to the African American residents of Louisville. Reverend Thomas Fountain Blue (1866-1935), a native of Farmville, Virginia, and a graduate of Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), was appointed as the branch's director. Harris was hired as Blue’s assistant. Previously, Harris was as teacher for eighteen years in the city's schools. Harris received her library training from Reverend Blue (he had received his training from staff at the main branch of the Louisville Free Public Library). In 1912, Reverend Blue started a training program for African Americans -- the earliest known such program in the United States.

In January 1914, the Eastern Colored Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library was opened. Harris was appointed as the branch's manager. She also served as the branch's children’s librarian. Later that year, Harris was the keynote speaker at the dedication service for the Cherry Street Branch of the Evansville-Vanderburgh County Public Library in Evansville, Indiana. The title of her speech was “The Advantages of Colored Branch Libraries.” The Cherry Street Branch was a Carnegie library that served the African American residents of Evansville, Indiana. It was in operation from 1914-1954. Fannie C. Porter, one of the students in Reverend Blue's training program, was the Cherry Street Branch's first manager (1914-1915). Porter was later succeeded by Lillian Haydon Childress Hall, the earliest known African American to receive a formal library science education in Indiana.

During the 1921 Joint District Meeting of Indiana and Kentucky Librarians and Trustees held at the main branch of the Louisville Free Public Library,  Mrs. Harris and Reverend Blue gave attendees a tour of the library's Western Colored Branch. Indiana attendees at the meeting were William J. Hamilton, Mayme C. Snipes, and Elizabeth Claypool Earl of the Indiana Public Library Commission; Permelia Boyd of the Scott County Library Board; and Georgia Stockslager of the Corydon Public Library (now Harrison County Public Library).

In 1923, Mrs. Harris and Reverend Blue helped open the Paul Laurence Dunbar Branch of the George M. Jones Memorial Library in Lynchburg, Virginia. The branch was located inside Paul Laurence Dunbar High School and provided library services to African Americans in Lynchburg. Harlem Renaissance poet Anne Spencer, Lynchburg's first African American librarian, was the branch's first manager (1923-1945).


In 1927, Rachel Davis Harris attended the First Negro Library Conference, held March 15-18 at Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) in Hampton, Virginia. She and Reverend Blue served as two of the conference's organizers  (Blue was the conference chair) and both gave lectures at the conference. Forty librarians were in attendance.


In 1928, Rachel Davis Harris was one of several African American attendees at the 50th Annual Conference of the American Library Association (ALA). The conference was held May 27-June 2 in West Baden, Indiana at the West Baden Springs Hotel:


Rachel Davis Harris (Louisville Free Public Library, Louisville, Kentucky)


Rev. Thomas Fountain Blue (Louisville Free Public Library, Louisville, Kentucky)


Etka F. Braboy Gaskin (Gary Public Library, Gary, Indiana)

Lillian Sunshine Haydon Childress Hall (Indianapolis Public Library, Indianapolis, Indiana)


Hallie Beachem Brooks (Indianapolis Public Library, Indianapolis, Indiana)


Othella Roberts (Evansville Public Library, Evansville, Indiana)


Elnora McIntyre Roy (Atlantic City Public Library, Atlantic City, New Jersey)


Rebecca M. Bond (Chicago Public Library, Chicago, Illinois)


Edward C. Williams (Howard University, Washington, D.C.)


In 1930, Harris along with Reverend Blue, attended the Second Negro Library Conference which was held November 20-23 in Nashville, Tennessee at Fisk University. The number of librarians believed to have attended was 71. Louis Shores, head librarian at Fisk University, served as the chair of the conference committee. Reverend Blue was one of the committee members.

On November 1935, Reverend Thomas Fountain Blue passed away. Mrs. Harris was appointed as his successor. She served as the director of the Colored Branches of the Louisville Free Public Library until her retirement in 1942. Rachel Davis Harris passed away in 1969.

Update 5/26/2014:

Rachel Davis Harris is briefly mentioned in an I wrote an article on Lillian Haydon Childress Hall. The article was featured in the latest issue of Indiana Libraries (v. 33, no. 1). The link is below:


Fenton, Michele T. "Stepping Out on Faith: Lillian Haydon Childress Hall, Pioneer Black Librarian." Indiana Libraries 33.1 (2014): 5-11. Print."

Update 07/16/2014:

Rachel Davis Harris was an instructor at a summer training course for librarians held at Spelman College, June 14-July 25, 1930. The course was funded by the Southeastern Library Association and the Rosenwald Fund.


Related posts: A Brief History of Conference for African American Librarians: The First and Second Negro Library Conferences ; Rev. Thomas Fountain Blue and the Colored Branches of the Louisville Free Public Library; Librarian Education: Spelman College ; ALA History: 1928 Annual Conference of the American Library Association, West Baden, Indiana ; and Article on Evansville, Indiana's Former African American Library Branch (the Cherry Street Branch -- A Carnegie Library).
 
Sources: "E.G. Harris and Rachel J. Davis." Kentucky Marriages, 1785-1979. FamilySearch.org, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2014. ; "Susan Davis." United States Census, 1870. FamilySearch.org, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2014. ; "Everett G. Harris." United States Census, 1900. FamilySearch.org, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2014. ;  "Everett G. Harris." United States Census, 1910. FamilySearch.org, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2014. ; "Everett G. Harris." United States Census, 1920. FamilySearch.org, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2014. ;  "Everett G. Harris." United States Census, 1930. FamilySearch.org, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2014. ;  "Everett G. Harris." Kentucky Death Records, 1911-1955. FamilySearch.org, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2014. ; Harris, Rachel D. "Work with Children at the Colored Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library." Library Journal 35.4 (Apr. 1910): 160-161.Print. ; Jones, Reinette and Alonzo Hill. “Rachel D. Harris.” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database: Librarians, Library Collections, Libraries. University of Kentucky Libraries, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2010. ; Malone, Cheryl Knott. “Quiet Pioneers: Black Women Public Librarians in the Segregated South.” Vitae Scholasticae 19.1 (2000): 4-8. Print. ; Malone, Cheryl Knott. “Louisville Free Public Library's Racially Segregated Libraries, 1905-1935.” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 93.2 (1995): 159-179. Print.  ; “New Library Buildings: Evansville.” Library Occurrent 4.2 (1915):  28. Print. ; Harris, Rachel. “Advantages of Colored Library Branches.” Southern Workman 44.7 (1915):  385-391. Print. ; “Report of the Evansville Public Library for the Year Ending 1914.”  Evansville: Evansville Public Library, 1915. 6. Print. ; Fenton, Michele T. "A Great Day in Indiana: the Legend of Lillian Childress Hall." Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Inc. Newsletter 39.2 (2010): 5-6. Print. ; Fenton, Michele T. "Building Spotlight: The Cherry Street (African American) Branch of the Evansville-Vanderburgh County, IN Public Library." Library History Roundtable Newsletter 10.2 (2011):6. Print. ; Fenton, Michele T. "Way Down Yonder at the Cherry Street Branch: A Short History of Evansville's Negro Library." Indiana Libraries 30.2 (2011): 37-38. Print. ; Fenton, Michele T. "Stepping Out on Faith: Lillian Haydon Childress Hall, Pioneer Black Librarian." Indiana Libraries 33.1 (2014): 5-11. Print. ; Jones, Reinette. Library Service to African Americans in Kentucky: From the Reconstruction Era to the 1960s. Jefferson: McFarland, 2002. 51-57, 69, 77-78, 80, 84, 86, 88-89, 162-163. Print. ; Musmann, Klaus. “The Ugly Side of Librarianship: Segregation in Library Services from 1900 to 1950.” Untold Stories: Civil Rights, Libraries, and Black Librarianship. Ed. John Mark Tucker. Champaign: Board of Trustees U of Illinois, 1998. 82-84, 86. Print. ; Battles, David M. The History of Public Library Access African Americans in the South or, Leaving Behind the Plow. Lanham: Scarecrow, 2008. 33-34, 44, 50, 54, 60, 69-70, 142. Print. ; Spradling, Mary Mace. “Black Librarians in Kentucky.” The Black Librarian in the Southeast: Reminiscences, Activities, Challenges. Ed. Annette L. Phinazee. Durham: NCCU School of Library Science, 1980. 41, 44. Print. ; “West Baden, Ind.” Indianapolis Recorder 9 June 1928: 7. Print. ; "Library Opened: Colored People of Louisville Looked After." Indianapolis Recorder 2 June 1906: 1. Print. ; Morrison, Ken. "A History of the Lynchburg Public Library." Virginia Libraries 52.4 (2006): 2-3. Print. Doyle, Patricia K. "The Lynchburg Public Library Celebrates Its Fortieth Birthday." Lynch's Ferry (Fall 2005): 1. Print. ; Smith, Jessie Carney. "Black Women, Civil Rights, & Libraries." Untold Stories: Civil Rights, Libraries, and Black Librarianship. Ed. John Mark Tucker. Champaign: Board of Trustees of U of Illinois, 1998. 142-143. Print. ; Parkhurst Erin. "Literary Luminary: Celebrating Poet Anne Spencer." Virginia Living 9.2 (2011): 17. Print. ; "Indiana and Kentucky Librarians and Trustees Joint Meeting." Library Journal 46.7 (Apr. 1, 1921): 318-319. Print. ; Joint District Meeting Indiana and Kentucky Librarians and Trustees, Main Library, Thursday, May 10, 1921, Louisville, Kentucky. Program. [Louisville: Louisville Free Public Library, 1921]. Print. ; "Louisville." Library Occurrent 6.2 (1921): 80-81. Print. ; Jordan, Casper LeRoy. "African American Forerunners in Librarianship." Handbook of Black Librarianship. Ed. E.J. Josey and Martha DeLoach. 2nd Ed. Lanham: Scarecrow, 2000. 28-29. Print. ; Dawson, Alma. "Celebrating African American Librarians and Librarianship." Library Trends 49.1 (2000): 56. Print. ; Campbell, Lucy B. "Black Librarians in Virginia." The Black Librarian in the Southeast: Reminiscences, Activities, Challenges. Ed. Annette L. Phinazee. Durham: NCCU School of Library Science, 1980. 124-125. Print. ; Jones, Reinette and Alonzo Hill. "Thomas Fountain Blue, Sr." Notable Kentucky African Americans Database: Librarians, Library Collections, Libraries. University of Kentucky Libraries, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2010.   

1 comment:

  1. Great article. I used to go to the Western Branch when I lived in Louisville in the 70s and early 80s. It was wonderful to go into a library and see so many books about us, African Americans. I would just hang out in there for hours, with my son. I am so thankful for our forefathers and fore mothers of librarianship.

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