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154 Susan Dart Butler and Ethel Martin Bolden South Carolina’s Pioneer African American Librarians Georgette Mayo • • • South Carolina’s pioneer librarians Susan Dart Butler (1888–1959) and Ethel Bolden (1918–2002) were crucial to the formation of public branches and school libraries for African Americans in South Carolina during the height of Jim Crow segregation as well as during its collapse in the 1960s. Butler fulfilled a community need when she opened her father’s school library as a reading room. Her efforts eventually garnered the attention of the Rosenwald Foundation and were instrumental in obtaining branch libraries for all Charleston citizens as well as in establishing the Dart Hall reading room as a Charleston Free Library (cfl) branch for use by African Americans. Several decades later, Ethel Martin Bolden created libraries in black elementary and middle schools in Columbia , South Carolina’s capital city. Bolden broke through the Jim Crow barriers by becoming the first African American librarian to integrate a previously allwhite high school in 1968. Butler’s and Bolden’s work as librarians extended and enhanced the role of education in schools and homes. In conjunction with the work of teachers, African American librarians were vital to the endeavors of “uplifting the race,” as they facilitated the educational process and counteracted the high rate of illiteracy prevalent especially among blacks in South Carolina. As clubwomen and civic volunteers, Butler and Bolden stood at the forefront of societal change for race relations in their communities. Butler focused on efforts that would directly benefit the black community through the Charleston Branch of the naacp and the South Carolina Federation of Women’s Clubs.1 Butler and Bolden 155 Butler was president of both the Phyllis Wheatley Literary and Social Club and the Modern Priscillas, which led to her association with the Charleston Interracial Committee. This organization garnered support from elite whites for making her reading room a branch of the newly formed cfl. Yet despite her alliances, she still had to endure and defy racism in the formation of a library for black Charlestonians. Bolden was unable to join the naacp because of her job in the public schools. But like Butler, she too participated in interracial efforts to improve race relations, serving on the South Carolina Council on Human Relations and the Community Relations Council. The mission of Butler and Bolden was the same: to provide library services to African Americans in Charleston and Columbia. Bolden implicitly understood the connection they shared when, as a library science graduate student in the 1950s, she chose to write about Butler to fulfill a requirement for graduation to research an African American pioneer librarian. Her thesis on Susan Dart Butler’s life has endured as the definitive source of information on Butler for over fifty years. Susan Dart Butler, an educated, articulate, accomplished entrepreneur and proud African American personified W. E. B. Du Bois’s vision of “the talented tenth,” a minority of elite, educated blacks, missionaries of culture who influenced and strengthened the masses in their race.2 She was no stranger to leadership owing to the African American men and women of stature who surrounded her in Charleston, most notably her father. The Reverend John Lewis Dart was pastor of the Morris Street Baptist Church and Shiloh Baptist Church. In 1894, Dart established the Charleston Normal and Industrial School as a solution to the overcrowded conditions of the city’s black public schools. Starting out as a three-room building on Kracke Street, the school soon expanded to a three-building complex located on the corner of Bogard and Kracke Streets. Her mother, Julia Pierre Dart, taught classes in domestic science, bookkeeping, and typewriting.3 John Dart’s resolve was to capitalize on his opportunities as a community leader while doing whatever he could to improve his people.4 In a 1888 speech given to Avery Institute alumni entitled “Political Liberty,” Dart stressed that “in order to rise in the social and civil scale, and to secure our political rights and civil liberties, let us get our education, wealth, true moral and religious training, respecting and confiding in one another, and thereby proving before the world that we are worthy and deserve all that we demand.”5 The same year brought the birth of the Darts’ first child. Named for her grandmother, Susan Fenwick, a free person of color who purchased her future husband’s freedom before the Civil War, Susan Elizabeth Dart grew up nurtured by a...


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