History of the Dunbar Branch Library

The Dunbar Branch Library, named for the famous poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar, opened on August 16, 1942 in the Knox Institute building, formerly a private school for black residents founded in 1867 by the Athens Freedman’s Bureau, at the corner of Pope and Reese streets. The library was one of only thirteen libraries for black citizens in the state of Georgia and was sponsored by the city of Athens, Clarke County Commissioners, and the Athens-Clarke County board. Other libraries for blacks were located in Atlanta, Macon, Waycross, and Savannah. The Junior Assembly contributed $25 to the establishment of Dunbar Branch. Roxie Jarrell was the first library clerk and her salary was paid by the Works Progress Administration. The regional librarian served as her supervisor and books for the library came from the Athens Regional Library System budget. Black citizens in the community organized a group called Friends of the Library, with Mrs. Grace Parker as chairman, which paid for furniture and overhead costs. The library was open 1:30-6:30 PM Monday-Friday and 9:00 AM-2:00 PM on Saturday.

Dunbar Branch, July 1945

Library service to black schools began in 1948. Boxes of books were taken to schools and eventually teachers were allowed to choose books from the bookmobile. This was an important and essential service for black Athenians. In 1949, the library received a face-lift with new lights, furniture, floor covering, and paint. Circulation this year was 5,976 volumes. In 1957, the library moved to the home economics building of the Athens High and Industrial Collection on Reese Street where it stayed until it was relocated to 196 E. Washington Street in 1962. This building was formerly the old Union Hall building, which housed black lawyers, dentists, doctors, and other professionals in addition to the Morton Building and the Samaritan Building. Miss Pauline Cobb was hired as the Dunbar Branch librarian in 1961. The new downtown location was ideal because it was near several black-owned businesses and the library could better serve the community in a more central location. This location also had room for storage so the main library kept newspapers and magazines stored here. Miss Cobb’s health forced her to resign and Mrs. Agnes Amos briefly took over until she accepted a position with the Clarke County school system. Miss Arabella Murray was soon after hired as librarian.

Dunbar Branch, Vacation Reading Club, 1954

Dunbar Branch, Vacation Reading Club, 1955

The downtown location was eventually purchased by a car dealership. In 1964, a proposal to merge the Dunbar Branch with the main library was considered, but they decided to relocate the library instead. In 1965, Dr. Donerell Green rented an upper level of his office on 1127 W. Hancock Ave. to the library. The rent, with the exception of the telephone, was $150 a month. The library remained there until 1972, when the Dunbar Branch consolidated with the Athens-Clarke County library at its new location on 120 West Dougherty Street. Finally, under the directorship of Miss Sarah Maret, Athens had one library to serve the entire community.

Dunbar Branch, Date Unknown

Dunbar Branch, Date Unknown

Bibliography:

Athens-Clarke County Library. Manuscript, Dunbar Branch Library. Held in the History of the Athens-Clarke County Library collection at the Athens-Clarke County Library Heritage Room.

Athens-Clarke County Library. Manuscript, History of Athens Regional Library. Held in the History of the Athens-Clarke County Library collection at the Athens-Clarke County Library Heritage Room.

Athens-Clarke County Library. Manuscript, Timeline. Held in the History of the Athens-Clarke County Library collection at the Athens-Clarke County Library Heritage Room.

Braxton, J.M., ed. (1993). The collected poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. – Available here.

Civil war & beyond. Athens-Clarke County Unified Government.

“Dunbar Branch of Public Library Now in Readiness.” September 20, 1942. Clipping from Athens-Banner Herald. Held in the History of the Athens-Clarke County Library collection at the Athens-Clarke County Library Heritage Room.

Dunbar, P.L. (2004). Dunbar out loud [Recorded by Bobby Norfolk]. Little Rock, Ark: August House Audio. – Available here.

Gleason, E.A. (1941). The southern Negro and the public library. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. – Available for reference in the Athens-Clarke County Library Heritage Room.

Gould, J. (1958). That Dunbar boy: America’s famous Negro poet. New York: Dodd, Mead. – Available here.

Murray, A. (1991). Letter, Recollections of Dunbar Branch Library, to Athens Regional Library. Held in the History of the Athens-Clarke County Library collection at the Athens-Clarke County Library Heritage Room.

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