Andrew Carnegie

Biographical Portrait

Carnegie’s philanthropy
promoted the growth of
public libraries across
the nation.

The Louisville Western Branch Library for African-Americans was created in 1905 with the financial support of Andrew Carnegie, who has become a legend for his philanthropy on behalf of libraries throughout the nation. A lot of money was invested in the beginning, a great collection of books was acquired and nothing like this had happened before in the United States.

Because Carnegie almost always insisted on local communities providing the sites for his library buildings as a symbolic and physical commitment to the library program. Community leaders, including members of the Scottish Society, appealed personally to the Scotland-born Carnegie, whose pledge ultimately reached $450,000, with which Louisville would build its main public library and eight branches -- two of which would be dedicated to serving its “colored” citizens. Only ten communities received more. Had Carnegie gifts not been available, Louisville’s entrance into modern library age no doubt would have been delayed.

Separate branches for African-Americans, while considered progressive for the South of their time, were consistent with Carnegie’s views that blacks had a special economic service to perform in the industrialized United States. Carnegie was once quoted as saying, “We cannot afford to lose the Negro.” We have urgent need of all and of more. Let us therefore turn our efforts to making the best of him.”

--Bobinski, George S. Carnegie Libraries. Their History and Impact on American Public Library Development. American Library Association. Chicago: 1969.

--Malone, Cheryl Knott. “Louisville Free Public Library’s Racially Segregated Branches,” 1905-35. Register of the Kentucky Historical Society. Vol. 93. No. 2. Spring 1995.