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    Atlanta's Carnegie public library, built in 1902. This library was for white patrons only. Courtesy of the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center via Digital Library of Georgia.

    Carnegie Library

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    1902 article by W. E. B. DuBois protesting the exclusion of black patrons from the newly built Carnegie Library in Atlanta. "The Bulletin of Atlanta University, 1902 no. 127," page 4. Courtesy of the Atlanta University Center via Digital Library of Georgia.

    The bulletin of Atlanta University, 1902 no. 127 (page 4)
    • Date
    • 1901-04
    • Creator
    • Atlanta University
    • Description
    • The Atlanta University Bulletin, issue April 1902 no. 127. The bulletin of Atlanta University was a publication sent to faculty, friends and alumni of the institution. The purpose of the bulletin was to tell of the institution's progress and present ... more
      The Atlanta University Bulletin, issue April 1902 no. 127. The bulletin of Atlanta University was a publication sent to faculty, friends and alumni of the institution. The purpose of the bulletin was to tell of the institution's progress and present needs. This issue mentions the opening of the Carnegie Library at Atlanta University. Atlanta University opened on October 13, 1869. The University offered training for African American students of all ages including kindergarten, grade school, normal, industrial, academy and college. Digital Collection of Robert W. Woodruff Library (AUC). less
    • Rights
    • No Copyright - United States
    • Partner
    • Digital Library of Georgia
    • Contributing Institution
    • Atlanta University Center (Ga.)

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    1909 illustrated description of the newly built "colored branch" of the Louisville Free Public Library. Courtesy of the University of Illinois via HathiTrust.

    Colored branch, Louisville Free Public Library
    • Date
    • 1909
    • Creator
    • Louisville Free Public Library.
    • Description
    • A brief illustrated description of the new building together with some interesting figures concerning its cost, its equipment and its use".
    • Rights
    • Public domain only when viewed in the US. Learn more at http://www.hathitrust.org/access_use
    • Partner
    • HathiTrust
    • Contributing Institution
    • University of Illinois.

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    A photograph of the Auburn branch of the Atlanta Public Library, 1935. This branch, opened in 1921, was the first library in Atlanta that offered services to African American patrons. Courtesy of the Auburn Avenue Research Library via the Digital Library of Georgia.

    Auburn branch of the Carnegie Library of Atlanta
    • Date
    • 1935-1935
    • Description
    • Photograph of the exterior of the the Auburn Branch of the Carnegie Library of Atlanta, Georgia, pictured circa 1935. The library opened in 1921 and closed in 1959. It was the city's first public library branch for African Americans.
    • Rights
    • Courtesy of Archives Division, Auburn Avenue Research Library.
    • Partner
    • Digital Library of Georgia
    • Contributing Institution
    • New Georgia Encyclopedia (Project)

As public libraries spread across the United States at the turn of the twentieth century, state and local racial segregation laws were denying African Americans access to public facilities across the US South. In other regions of the country, state and local governments supported discriminatory labor and housing practices that, in concert with prevailing racist social ideas, restricted African American access to public spaces as well. In 1896, the Supreme Court upheld the "separate but equal" facilities as constitutional in Plessy vs. Ferguson, which justified the creation of segregated public spaces for African Americans, including schools and libraries, that were in practice inferior and underfunded compared to those available to whites.

As public facilities, the earliest public libraries in southern states excluded African Americans by law. When Andrew Carnegie funded the construction of a new public library in Atlanta in 1902, scholar and activist W. E. B. DuBois, then a professor at Atlanta University and a strong proponent of African American education, spoke out publicly against the injustice of a public facility that refused service to a full third of Atlanta’s population. The work of DuBois and other activists did not succeed in integrating public libraries, but it would bring funding for colored branches to the attention of philanthropists like Carnegie. In 1905, Louisville, Kentucky, would open the first free public library for African American readers staffed and operated entirely by African Americans. Atlanta's first library branch for African Americans would not open until 1921.