How One Chicago Librarian Became The Steward Of Black Literature, History

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Hall Branch opening day, January 1932. Vivian Harsh, center. Chicago Public Library
vivian
Hall Branch opening day, January 1932. Vivian Harsh, center. Chicago Public Library

How One Chicago Librarian Became The Steward Of Black Literature, History

If Carter G. Woodson is the “Father of Black History,” then Vivian Harsh is its mother. Far from the quiet bluestocking that comes to mind when you think of a librarian, Harsh was the first Black person to head a branch of the Chicago Public Library. She spent her summers traveling the country, collecting manuscripts and books that held the stories of every phase of Black life, history and culture.

Harsh created a cultural center in Bronzeville at the height of the Harlem Renaissance — a golden age for Black culture. She guarded that space and demanded respect from those who visited it. She even once kicked Chicago historian Timuel Black out of her library for acting up.

Decades after her death, the impact of her work is still felt today. Reset digs into the history of “the historian who never wrote.”

GUEST: Stacie Williams, division chief of the Chicago Public Library Archives and Special Collections