Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Houston's Carnegie Libraries

The postcard of the Carnegie Library at McKinney and Travis Sts. in Houston, TX shown above was the first stimulus for my closer look at Houston's Carnegie library buildings. The message on the postcard reads: "This is one of the prettiest library buildings I have ever seen."  It was mailed on January 24, 1906. A second stimulus was the receipt of a complimentary copy of the publication 100 Years - 100 Stories: Houston Public Library 1904-2004 by Betty Trapp Chapman (Houston Public Library, 2004). Included among the stories was not only the story about the Carnegie library building on the postcard, but also the story of the Colored Carnegie Library in Houston. Also, earlier this month there was a post on the Little Known Black Librarian Facts blog about the Colored Carnegie Library in Houston. The story of the Carnegie library buildings themselves is fairly straightforward. Two separate entities apply for Carnegie grants. They receive the grants and the buildings are built, and then both buildings are later demolished.  A much more complicated story however revolves around racial social injustice and library use in the South. For this story, we are fortunate to have the results of the excellent research conducted by Cheryl Knott Malone. Her article "Autonomy and Accommodation: Houston's Colored Carnegie Library, 1907-1922" is available online. Also online is her article "Unannounced and Unexpected: the Desegregation of Houston Public Library in the Early 1950s".  The Colored Carnegie Library Association, a separate legal organization, operated the Colored Carnegie Library which was dedicated on April 11, 1913 until 1921 when it became a branch of the Houston Public Library. The building was razed in 1962 to make way for a highway expansion. It was at this point that the limited desegregation of the Houston Public Library which began in the early 1950s became official desegregation. Read Malone's articles for a detailed account.  "One of the prettiest library buildings I have ever seen" was dedicated on March 2, 1904. A new building replacing the Carnegie building was dedicated in 1926. The Houston Public Library in a tribute to Carnegie and perhaps as a result of being a little ashamed at having abandoned his beautiful building named one of its branch libraries after him. The library also named one its branch libraries after W.L.D. Johnson, one of the founders of the Colored Carnegie Library Association.


Chuck Whiting said...

Always enjoy reading history about my hometown. I wrote something along these lines a few years back on another blog. It doesn't add much, but thought you might like to see a relic from the old library system in Houston.

Larry T. Nix said...

Thanks Chuck for the heads up about your previous post. Nice job.