A Separate Flame

Western Branch: The First African American Public Library

Rachel D. Harris

Ms. Harris on the steps of the Western Branch
Mrs. Rachel D. Harris on the steps of the Western Branch Library

Rachel Davis Harris (1869-1969) became the first African American woman director of a public library branch in Kentucky when she was appointed in 1935. Previously, she was the children's librarian at the Louisville Western Colored Branch Library and later the manager of the Eastern Colored Branch Library. A native of Louisville, Mrs. Harris graduated from Central High School in 1885 and was a teacher for eighteen years in the city's schools.

In 1905, Louisville saw the opening of the first free public library for African American readers staffed and operated entirely by African Americans. Reverend Thomas Fountain Blue (1866-1935) was appointed as the branch's director, while Mrs. Harris and Ms. Elizabeth I. Finney were hired as his assistants. In 1912, Rev. Blue started a library training program for African Americans.

In January 1914, Mrs. Harris was appointed as the branch manager of the new Eastern Colored Branch. In 1927, she and Rev. Blue attended the first Negro Library Conference in Hampton, Virginia. In 1935, she succeeded Rev. Blue as the new director of the Louisville Public Library Colored Department upon his death. She served in this role until her retirement in 1942.

Mrs. Harris passed away in 1969 and is buried in Louisville Cemetery.

Sources Cited:

  1. "November 24, 1935 (Page 7 of 64)." The Courier-Journal (1923-2001) Nov 24 1935: 7. ProQuest. 29 July 2019 .
  2. Fenton, M. (2014). Rachel Davis Harris and the Colored Branches of the Louisville Free Public Library, Louisville, Kentucky. [online] Littleknownblacklibrarianfacts.blogspot.com. Available at: http://littleknownblacklibrarianfacts.blogspot.com/2014/04/rachel-davis-harris-and-colored.html.