For Immediate Release
Maggie Killackey Jurgensen
Chicago Public Library
CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARY CELEBRATES THE 75TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE HALL BRANCH AND HARSH COLLECTION WITH YEARLONG EXHIBIT AND PROGRAMS DURING 2007
January 5, 2007
The Chicago Public Library will kick-off a yearlong celebration in January 2007, in recognition of the 75th anniversary of the George Cleveland Hall Branch Library and the landmark establishment of the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature. The Library will acknowledge these milestone events with a series of programs throughout the year, starting with a special two-day observance in January. Both programs will feature reminiscence from patrons, scholars, researchers and staff about the rich histories of Hall Branch Library and the Harsh Research Collection.
The first program, Celebrating 75 Years of Hall Branch Library, will take place Saturday, January 20 at 1:00 p.m. at the Hall Branch, 4801 S. Michigan Ave. The program will feature comments from Margaret Burroughs, former CPL librarian Doris Saunders, Timuel Black, Haki Madhubuti and Wanda Bridgeforth, who was a young patron present at the opening of the Hall Library. Sherri Ervin, Branch Manager at Hall Library, will host the program.
Celebrating 75 Years of the Harsh Research Collection will be held the following Sunday, January 21 at 1:00 p.m. at Carter G. Woodson Regional Library, 9525 S. Halsted St. Among the guest speakers are Doris Saunders, Darlene Clark Hine, Adam Green, B.J. Bolden and Danielle Allen. Robert Miller, head curator of the Vivian G. Harsh Collection, will host the Sunday program. Videotaped remarks by the late John H. Johnson and the late Vernon Jarrett will highlight both Saturday and Sunday programs.
Additionally, a yearlong exhibit focusing on the dual histories of the Harsh Collection and the Hall Branch Library will open at the Woodson Regional Library on January 20. Titled Black Jewel of the Midwest: Celebrating 75 Years of Hall Branch Library and the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection, the multi-faceted exhibit will highlight the role of Hall Branch library and the Harsh Research Collection in the cultural flowering of the Chicago Renaissance, in the Black Arts Movement, and in contemporary creative development. The exhibit will include “Treasures of the Harsh Collection,” special displays of rare and unique items, many of which have never before been exhibited.
A series of four additional programs will be presented during the spring and autumn of 2007, focusing on the Harsh Research Collection as a center for exposition and the discussion of humanities. Dates and times of the additional programs will be announced at a later date.
The Hall Branch Library, located in historic Bronzeville, was named in honor of Dr. George Cleveland Hall, a renowned surgeon, social activist and civic leader who was the second African American to serve on the Chicago Public Library Board of Directors. Hall Branch opened to the public on January 18, 1932, under the direction of Vivian G. Harsh, the first African American managing librarian in the Chicago Public Library system. Ms. Harsh was assisted by Charlemae Hill Rollins, another pioneering African American children’s librarian, who worked at the Hall Branch from 1932-1963. Ms. Rollins was the first African American president of the Children’s Services Division of the American Library Association and served as the chair of the Newbery/Caldecott Awards committee.
During the 1930s and 1940s, Ms. Harsh began establishing a “Special Negro Collection” to provide research resources and assistance to the Bronzeville residents. During that period, Hall Branch served as a meeting place for promising young Black writers such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, Arna Bontemps, Zora Neale Hurston, Horace Cayton and Claude McKay. While developing the collection, Ms. Harsh won the support and assistance of those burgeoning writers, some of whom donated their works to assist in the development of other young Black writers.
Combined with the additional assistance and contributions from Bronzeville’s community leaders, scholars and activists, the Special Negro Collection became known and respected nationally as a specialized medium, which fostered African American creativity and scholarship. The collection quickly established a lofty principle: to provide the highest level of resources and assistance to all patrons seeking research information about the history and cultures of people of African descent. 1n 1970, the Chicago Public Library Board of Directors honored the memory and work of Ms. Harsh by renaming it the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature.
The expanding Harsh Research Collection remained at Hall Branch until 1975, when it moved to the newly opened Carter G. Woodson Regional Library, where 11, 000 square feet of space was provided for the collection. In recent years, however, this space became inadequate to house the growing volume of Black history materials held in the Harsh Collection. In 1992, land adjacent to the Woodson Regional Library was purchased and a new wing was constructed in 1998, bringing the total square footage to 22,500. The refurbished and expanded Harsh Research Collection opened on January 25, 1999.
The oldest and largest African American history and literature collection in the Midwest, the Harsh Research Collection contains a wealth of precious documentation of the Black experience. The strength of the collection is concentrated in African American history in Illinois. Special bibliographies have been prepared to assist researchers with many topics.
Its holdings include:
- 70,000 books, many of them rare;
- 500 periodical titles, current and retrospective;
- 100 microfilm research collections, totaling over 7,000 reels, bringing together the most significant primary source materials from other Black Studies research collections across the country.
Among the most significant and unique materials in the Harsh Research Collection are its more than 200 manuscript and archival collections. Manuscript collections most often consulted by researchers include:
- The Illinois Writers Project: “Negro in Illinois” papers.
- Original manuscripts by Richard Wright, Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps.
- The archives of Heritage Press, Path Press, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Church of All Nations, the Chicago chapter of the Links, Inc., and the Chicago chapter of the National Black Nurses Association.
- The papers of Horace Cayton, Richard Durham, Era Bell Thompson, Marjorie Stewart Joyner, Timuel Black, Cyrus Colter, Ben Burns, Leonidas Berry, Theodore Charles Stone and Madeline Stratton Morris.
The items listed above represent just a fraction of the manuscripts and materials that exist in the archives of the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature. With its growing volume of books, manuscripts, photographs, newspapers, and many rare items, the Harsh Research Collection continues its primary objective to provide resources and assistance to researchers seeking information about the history and cultures of African Americans and people of African descent.
The Chicago Public Library is comprised of the Harold Washington Library Center, two regional libraries and 76 neighborhood branches. Chicago Public Library offers a rich resource of books, DVDs, audio books and more, provides free access to the Internet and WiFi in all of its locations, as well as free public programs for children, teens and adults.
The Harold Washington Library Center, Carter G. Woodson Regional Library and Conrad Sulzer Regional Library are open 7 days a week, the remaining 76 branch libraries are open 6 days a week and patrons can access all of the libraries’ collections online 24 hours a day. The exhibit and program series is partially funded by the Illinois Humanities Council. For more information, please visit the website at chicagopubliclibrary.org, or call the Chicago Public Library Press Office at (312) 747-4050.