Today marks the 118th anniversary of the birth of poet, playwright and social activist Langston Hughes. To my astonishment, shortly after he celebrated his birthday in 1949, Hughes came to Wilson to deliver a lecture in the auditorium of Darden High School. The event marked a celebration of National Negro History Week, and its proceeds went to support the Wilson Negro Library‘s bookmobile fund.
Wilson County Public Library’s Local History Room holds a copy of “A History of Public Library Service to Blacks in Wilson, N.C.,” the master’s thesis Doretta Davis Anderson submitted to the University of North Carolina’s School of Library Science in 1976. Here are early excerpts :
“The honor of first suggesting a public library for the black citizens of Wilson, North Carolina belonged to a Mrs. Argie Evans Allen. Mrs. Allen suggested the idea of establishing a library for the black community as a project for her club, the Mary McLeod Bethune Civic Club. Accepting the idea, the club then authorized Mrs. Allen to carry our the project as she saw fit.
“The first actual recorded interest in the establishment of the library appeared in a letter, written by Mrs. Allen to Mrs. Mollie Huston Lee on June 7, 1943. Mrs. Lee, at that time was supervisor of North Carolina’s Negro Public Libraries. …
“Subsequently, Dr. D.C. Yancey donated a room over his drugstore to the club for the establishment of a library. …
“… Volunteers were solicited to man the library. The first official ‘librarian’ was Evangeline Royal, a local high school student employed to operate the library after school.”
“The following persons were appointed to become members of the library’s first board of trustees: Mrs. W.M. Freeman (Chairman); E. Hilliard (Secretary); James Whitfield (Treasurer); E.F. Battle; William Hines; Dr. D.C. Yancey; and C.W. Foster.
“Considering its relative obscurity, the library was to circulate 108 volumes during its first year of operations and collect $539.40 in donations for operating expenses.
“The following year showed a marked improvement. Aside from acquiring a new librarian, the board of trustees was able to solicit appropriations from the local city and county officials for the financing of the library. … Under the direction of Miss Pauleze Coley (Bryant), the college graduate employed by the library, circulation for the year ending June 30, 1945 totaled 3,172 volumes. …”
Proposed floor plan of Wilson County Negro Library’s location on Pender Street.
Evangeline Royal — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 203 Pender Street, widow Ossie M. Royall, 33, an elevator girl at the courthouse; her mother Tossie Jenkins, 53, stemmer at a tobacco factory; daughters LaForest, 16, and Evauline Royall, 14; and a roomer named Ed Hart, 45, a laborer employed by the town of Wilson. Ossie and LaForest were born in Wilson; Evaline in Battleboro [Nash County]; and Tossie and Ed in Nash County.