from the desk of Annette Walker

from the desk of Annette Walker

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Blair-Caldwell African-American Research Library Celebrates a Decade

   John W. Franklin of the Smithsonian and Wilma Webb, former Colorado state legislator
         Blair-Caldwell African-American Research Library Celebrates a Decade
                           Documenting the Past, Projecting into the Future

                                                                 by Annette Walker

     'Until the lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunters'
                                                      An African Proverb

     “We salute the Blair-Caldwell African-American Research Library,” said John W. Franklin, Senior Program Manager at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.  He was in Denver in April for Blair-Caldwell's 10th anniversary recognition.

     "Blair-Caldwell has joined a very important group of resources in our nation, among them the Schomburg Research Library in New York City, the Moreland-Spingarn Library at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and the Vivian Harsh Collection in Chicago as places that collect and preserve our history,” Franklin continued.    
     “The history of this area is in safe hands under the wonderfully talented and compassionate staff at the Blair Caldwell. We at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture are pleased to be here because we recognize that around the nation each place has a specific history, but our histories link us together as one nation, whether we’re in Hawaii, Vermont, Florida or Chicago.   The African American experience is unique, but we are linked together by this shared past. It is up to us to share this knowledge with our young people, because if we fail to teach them everything we know, we have failed at our job.”
     Franklin, who is the son of the renowned historian John Hope Franklin, noted the importance of the library's 3rd floor Legacy Exhibit.  "It commences in 1500 because  that is when we came and we went everywhere; we went to Florida as well as to Puerto Rico and eventually California.  Our history in this country did not begin in 1619 in the British colonies.  It is complicated and involves the French, the Spanish, the Dutch as well as the British”, he said.
     The Blair-Caldwell Library is one of five public libraries in the United States whose mission is the collection and preservation of African-American society.  The first was the Schomburg Library in New York City which was established in 1926.  The Black Resource Center of the Los Angeles public library system opened in 1978.  The Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture and History was inaugurated in 1994 in Atlanta, Georgia.  The African-American Research Library and Cultural Center in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida opened in 2002.  The Blair-Caldwell Library, the fifth public library with this focus, opened in 2003.
     In addition, an increasing number of public and university libraries house special collections of African-American memorabilia.                                                                    
     In 1997 former Mayor Wellington Webb and his wife Wilma Webb developed an idea for an African-American research center with Charleszine 'Terri' Nelson, a senior librarian with the Denver Public Library (DPL).  The Mayor then approached officials within DPL and an agreement was reached.
     "The vision of the library was to provide a physical space for our history to be kept and maintained," said Wilma Webb, also a former state legislator.  "It would be a place that would be a community icon for our community to meet, to organize, to inspire, to be educated and to share the wisdom of elders," she continued.    
     For the next five years Nelson and Gwendolyn Crenshaw, a senior librarian in DPL's Western History division engaged in the complex task of creating a new institution.  On April 25, 2003 the Blair-Caldwell African-American Research Library had a grand opening with Mayor Wellington Webb officiating.
     As a repository of written and visual documents, the Blair-Caldwell library is a trailblazing institution for Colorado and surrounding states.  "Much of our collection has come from individuals and organizations," said Terri Nelson, now Senior Special Collection and Community Resource Manager based at Blair-Caldwell.
     "Every week people come here seeking information about their families, neighborhoods, and even areas outside Denver," said Danny Walker, senior librarian.
     "Among our early commitments was videotaping oral histories of senior citizens who had made important contributions as well as those individuals were the first African-Americans in their careers and other endeavors," said Nelson.  "We now have about 100 oral histories and dozens of collections, including those from churches, Wellington and Wilma Webb and other elected officials and community leaders," she continued.
     The library has some publications not found in other Denver Public Library branches.  Among them are the Black Scholar; CRISIS, the quarterly journal of the national NAACP; and the Journal of Negro History which began publishing in the early 20th century.

Beyond gathering documents and photographs, the staff has developed ongoing activities, such as film and literary series, art exhibits, and special programs in February during Black History Month.
     The library has developed partnerships with major local and national institutions, such as the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Library Association, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Colorado History.  Some recent exhibitions have resulted from these partnerships.
     "Ten years later the Blair-Caldwell library is known nationally for its resources and collections, and is a place that the entire state should be proud of for it is our history," said Wilma Webb.