The Granville Street Library got its own historical marker last week, distinguishing the 40-foot-by-25 foot building as the first library for African Americans. There were about 100 guests in attendance for the unveiling, performed by the library’s second librarian, Helen Amis.
Amis, now 93, took over from Maude Lassiter, who was the first person to hold the librarian’s position when the doors opened in 1942.
“She kind of made Granville Street the center of the African American community – and really Granville County,” said Mark Pace about Lassiter.
Not only is Pace the North Carolina Room specialist at Thornton Library, he also is president of the Granville County Historical Society. He spoke with WIZS’s Bill Harris on Thursday’s regular history segment of TownTalk about the significance of the library and more.
Pace said Granville County was ahead of its time regarding the library system. “It was the first library to get county funding when it was established in 1936,” he said. Shortly thereafter, a group of prominent African American citizens pushed for a library to serve the Black community. And in 1941, Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration approved $2,200 to build the library.
The city of Oxford donated the land on Granville Street and the building went up. Pace said the building has not undergone any alterations since it opened in 1942.
First Baptist Church owns the property, and has plans to restore it, Pace said.
According to Pace, the library is the third oldest building still standing that once was owned by the county.
Once the library opened, Lassiter – from the Oak Hill community in northern Granville County – got to work to get books. By 1950, there were about 23,000 volumes. A few years later, a bookmobile was taking books to patrons out in the county. The little library averaged 3,000 borrowers a year.
Lassiter got Howard University President Mordecai Johnson to visit the library, as well as historian John Hope Franklin and poet Langston Hughes, Pace said.
“Hughes stayed at Ms. Lassiter’s house and gave readings at the library,” he said, “and at Shaw High School out at Stovall.”
By the time the Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum in 1965, the current Thornton Library in Oxford was ready to open and county officials decided to integrate the library system. The Granville Street Library remained open, but saw fewer patrons. It closed in 1975.
Placement of the marker was a joint effort of the county library system and First Baptist Church, with fund paid from donations made to the North Carolina Room.
“I was just really amazed” at the attendance for the unveiling ceremony, Pace said. “I’m pleased that that many people care.”