A Separate Flame

Western Branch:
The First African American Public Library

1901

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.

1902

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.

1903

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

1905

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.

1907

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

1908

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.

1913

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.

1919

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

1920

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

1922

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.

1924

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

1927

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.

1931

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.

1935

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.

1948

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

1951

Barbara Miller

Barbara S. Miller named Children's Libraran.

1952

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

1955

A photo of children reading at the Western branch in 1955

Western Branch celebrates its 50th anniversary

1963

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

1975

Landmark sign outside Western

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

1992

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.

1994

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

1995

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.

1995

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.”

1999

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

2001

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.”

2012

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.

2018

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.