A Separate Flame

Western Branch: The First African American Public Library


Albert E. Meyzeek

Professor Albert E. Meyzeek, principal of Central Colored High School, takes a group of African-American students to the "Polytechnic Society Library", the only central library available to Louisvillians.


The Polytechnic Society closes its doors to African-Americans. Meyzeek organizes an African-American Library Committee and argues before the City Library Committee for access by African-Americans.


City Library Committee agrees to support the establishment of a branch library for African-Americans.


Original room

September 23: "Western Colored Branch Library" opens in temporary quarters in three rooms at the home of William M. Andrews, 1123 West Chestnut Street (no longer standing). The first manager was Thomas F. Blue, a Virginia native and graduate of Hampton Institute and the Richmond Theological Seminary.


March 13: Construction begins on the Carnegie-endowed Western Colored Branch Library building at Tenth and Chestnut Streets.


Western Branch Library in 1908

October 29: New Western Colored Branch Library building dedicated for public use. In excess of 400 people attend the ceremony and tour the new facility.


Women serving library apprenticeships, date unknown

Seven women serve apprenticeships at the Western Colored Branch preparing for library service. Thee from Louisville and one each from Houston, Texas; Cincinnati, Ohio; Memphis, Tennessee; and Evansville, Indiana.


Western and Eastern Colored Branches re-oganize to create a "Colored" Department under the supervision of Thomas Blue.


February: The Louisville Urban League organizes at the Western Colored Branch Library.


Women serving library apprenticeships, date unknown

June 26: Thomas F. Blue is the only colored representative at the American Library Association conference in Detroit, Michigan.


October: Louisville FreePublic Library opens a branch library at Central Colored High School, under the supervision of the Western Colored Branch Library.


March: Thomas F. Blue gives the opening address at the first Negro Library Conference at Hampton Institute, Virginia. He was credited as being the "founder" of the conference.


November: New library is dedicated at Fisk University. Also, the occasion of the 2nd Negro Library Conference. American Library Association establishes a special section on Negro Library Service. Thomas F. Blue is elected as chairman of the section.


Rachel D. Harris

November 10: Thomas F. Blue dies at age 69. His longtime assistant, Rachel D. Harris succeeds him as head of the Colored Department.


Clarence R. Graham became the first white public library director to chisel off the word 'colored' from a library entry.


Barbara Miller

Barbara S. Miller named Children's Libraran.


Trustees of Louisville Free Public Library vote to open all branches of the library to all persons.


A photo of children reading at the Western branch in 1955

Western Branch celebrates its 50th anniversary


Albert E. Meyzeek, "Dean of Negro Educators and equal-rights supporters in Kentucky", dies at age 101.


Landmark sign outside Western

Louisville Historic Landmarks and Preservation Districts Commission designates Western Branch as a "landmark".


May 19: Citizen's panel recommends closing many branches due to lack of funds. Western is one slated for closing. Outraged citizens form Western Branch Library Support group and mount strong protest.


March 22: Western Branch Library re-opens after $500,000 renovation with ribbon cutting, reception and a full week of celebratory activities.


September 22: 90th anniversary celebration ends with program and reception at Central High School featuring guest speaker, Dorothy Butler Gilliam, a Louisville-educated journalist, reporter and columnist for the Washington Post and then president of the National Association of Black Journalists.


Mural commemorating Western's 90th anniversary

February 2: A mural is unveiled in meeting room reflecting Western Library’s 90th anniversary theme: “Remembering Yesterday – Planning for Tomorrow.”


February 19: Dr. Benjamin Carson, world famous African American neurosurgeon speaks to Louisville youth at Western Library.


Check from Prince's Foundation for the Western Library

September 15: Musician Prince—through his Love 4 One Another charity—donates $12,000 to Western Library to “assist in reaching all areas of the community.”


Ribbon cutting 2012

September 8: Western Library undergoes a $500,000 facelift to restore and revitalize the 104 year-old building. The highlight of the project is the creation of the African American Archives Reading Room.


December: Western Library receives $70,000 grant as part of the Federal Russell redevelopment project. The funding is used to create a digitization lab, enhancing the capabilities of Western’s African American Archives to digitize and preserve existing materials and make them accessible to more people. In addition, the grant will increase the capacity of the collection, allowing for the collecting of new materials, as well as recording oral histories that document the redevelopment of the Russell neighborhood.