The Douglass-Truth branch of the Seattle Public Library, as it appeared in 1916, shortly after it originally opened as a memorial to Seattle colonist Henry Yesler. (Courtesy of MOHAI)
A branch of the Seattle Public Library is named after two African-American icons who never set foot in the Pacific Northwest.
The Douglass-Truth Library is located in a historic brick structure at the busy intersection of 23rd Avenue East and East Yesler Way in the central Seattle neighborhood.
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Steven Delvecchio is the regional director of the Seattle Public Library, whose territory includes Douglass-Truth. He says this library opened in 1914 and was named after Seattle’s first settler, mill owner and former mayor Henry Yesler.
“The branch was originally called Yesler Memorial Branch because the Yesler family had, during the initial establishment of the Seattle Public Library as an organization and institution in Seattle, made major contributions and had also been personally involved in starting the library. “says Delvecchio.
In the 1960s, the Yesler Memorial branch was facing a possible closure, but instead, with the help of community members and the sorority known as Alpha Kappa Alpha, it became home to what we are talking about. now call him African American collection. This special collection includes approximately 10,000 items, including books and archival materials focused on the African American experience in North America and in particular the Pacific Northwest.
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Steven Delvecchio says that because this important collection found its way into the former Yesler branch in the city’s historically African-American quarter, a decision to rename the library followed soon after, in the 1970s.
âThe same initiative that led to the creation of the African-American collection meant more clearly that this branch was truly part of the African-American community in Seattle,â said Delvecchio.
âSo they organized a competition to rename the branch, and there was a connection between [author and former slave] Frederick Douglass and [abolitionist and former slave] Sojourner Truth, so rather than breaking the tie, they decided to name the branch after both, âDelvecchio said.
The Seattle Public Library Board voted in favor of the name change in September 1975. Neither Frederick Douglass nor Sojourner Truth attended the dedication ceremony. Both had died in the 19th century.
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