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Day 4: Savannah, Georgia to St. Petersburg, Florida

Updated: Jun 27

Carnegie libraries visited: Savannah Main Branch and Carnegie Library of Savannah, South Carolina

Savannah has two libraries funded by Andrew Carnegie, but the one that interested me most was the named today as the Savannah Carnegie Library. This is one of the few Carnegie libraries intended for use by African Americans. Because southern libraries were segregated, Blacks rarely had access to them. Even though Carnegie specifically called for libraries to be built for the "industrious and ambitious; not those who need everything done for them, but those who, being most anxious and able to help themselves, deserve and will be benefited by help from others” those in power in the South were dubious that Blacks ever fit that description. The Colored Library Association of Savannah petitioned Carnegie, and he awarded the Association $12,000 to build a library for them. What I don't know -- and wish I did -- is how the Colored Library Association convinced the local authorities to support this library through taxes, which was a requirement of the grant.

This became the home library of James Alan McPherson and Clarence Thomas. McPherson was the first African-American writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; he also was awarded a MacArthur ("Genius") Fellowship. The MacArthur grant is given to individuals showing "extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction," so it seems that McPherson was indeed "industrious and ambitious." Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas also used this library as a child.

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