GALVESTON — Officials will gather this week to honor the 110th anniversary of the first African-American library in Texas, as well its later abolition, years before area public schools completed integration.
The public is welcome for the ceremony Wednesday at the Old Central Cultural Center in Galveston. A commemorative plaque will be unveiled, speeches made and a reception held.
“I would hope (those attending) would take with them a part of the history of how courageous this community was in creating a library for African-Americans,” said Douglas Matthews, board member of the Old Central Cultural Center.
Matthews, a member of the first graduating class of the newly integrated Ball High School in 1969, will highlight the demise of the segregated library.
“We want to recognize our place in history, being the first library for African-Americans in (the) state of Texas, as well as honor the integration that was done 10 years before segregation ended here,” Matthews said. “This is just a joyous opportunity to preserve our past, to honor those who have come before us, who have led the way, the good role models and examples.”
The ceremony will be in the Old Central Cultural Center library, where “Colored Branch of Rosenberg Library” is still carved into the stone above the doorways.
“All that remains of this chapter in Galveston history is the west entrance at the old Central High School annex building at Avenue M and 26th Street,” said Eleanor Barton, curator at Rosenberg Library Museum, writing in a history of the branch.
“In addition to being a first in Texas, Rosenberg Library’s Colored Branch is believed to be the first public library for blacks in the entire southern United States.”
The library’s story begins in 1904, a time when area schools were segregated, with separate facilities established for each race. Galveston was preparing to open the new Rosenberg Library.
A collaboration of the all-white Rosenberg Library Association, the Galveston School Board and the city of Galveston determined to add a public library for African-Americans, the first such facility in the state. The date was May 18, 1904.
The project was a “great and unbelievable effort of the city of Galveston, Rosenberg Library and the Galveston Independent School District in 1904,” said Pete Henley, president of the Old Central board.
More than 50 years later, at the suggestion of trustee Harris Kempner, the Rosenberg Library would elect to integrate itself, a decade before segregation was completed in Galveston public schools.
“The Colored Branch of Rosenberg Library ceased to exist, and the facility was used only as a school library for the next nine years,” Barton wrote.
Wednesday’s ceremony will focus on the unique collaborations that established then terminated the library.
“This is history and it shows how this community came together and led the way,” Matthews said.