Black history: A pioneering library pays forward its proud legacy

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Librarian Natalie Woods is protecting a history that has changed many lives, including her own.

She manages Louisville’s Western Library, a birthplace of Black librarianship in the United States. Founded in 1905 under segregation, Western is the oldest public library independently run by and for African Americans. Its first manager, the Rev. Thomas Fountain Blue, opened the first library school for Black Americans, who came to Western from across the South.

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Aside from digitizing Western’s archive and offering tours, Ms. Woods also had a headstone installed on Blue’s unmarked grave. Years ago, while she was struggling with accidental vision loss, an encounter with the papers of Blue renewed her resolve to pursue library school.

“I realized how far ahead of his time he was,” says Ms. Woods. “And I figured if he could do that then, then I could push through.”

Today, students who come through reflect on Blue’s influence too. “[It’s] really cool that we have so much history that’s so close – American history – that a lot of people don’t know about,” says Louisa Sarpee, a ninth grader at nearby Central High School. 

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