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First Black Man To Lead A U.S. Public Library Honored With Gravestone 80 Years After Death

First Black Man To Lead A U.S. Public Library Honored With Gravestone 80 Years After Death

He was a champion of equitable access to information!

The first Black man to lead a United States public library was recently honored with a gravestone 80 years after his death, WHAS 11 news reports. 

Rev. Thomas Fountain Blue was the son of enslaved parents, making a name for himself in the Louisville, Kentucky community as a minister and educator. In 1905, he was hired to run the Western Branch Library, the first free public library in the nation run and staffed by African Americans. Rev. Blue not only led the Western Branch, but he also fought for library services within Louisville's segregated Black community, advocating for equitable access to information. 

While Rev. Blue and his wife Cornelia’s contributions were innumerable when they passed, the two were buried in unmarked graves and the locations were forgotten. A local project exploring the history of Eastern Cemetery led to the discovery of their graves and immediate efforts were made to secure a grave headstone for the couple. Recently, Mayor Greg Fischer, the Frazier History Museum, and other local organizations came together to dedicate the headstone honoring Rev. Blue and Cornelia. Their granddaughter, Annette Blue was in attendance, calling the gravestone “beautiful,” and remarking about how ecstatic she was to show her 93-year-old father, who was Blue’s son. 

“Part of our mission at the Frazier History Museum is to bridge divides and highlight voices that aren’t always included in our history. It has been an honor to be among these partnering organizations to bring such deserved attention and a headstone to the Blue family,” said Rachel Platt, Director of Community Engagement at Frazier’s. 

Granddaughter Annette Blue & Mayor Greg Fischer. Photo Courtesy of Alyssa Newton/WHAS-TV

The Western Library has met its fair share of challenges over the century or so since it first opened, but its importance to the community has always shown through. In 2001, when the branch was in danger of closing due to lack of funds, iconic singer Prince donated $12,000 to keep the doors open through his Love 4 One Another Charities. Since then, the library has continued its mission, serving the residents of Louisville and housing some of the most important parts of Black history in the city including the African American archives which feature various resources and papers, including those of Rev. Blue and poet Joseph S. Cotter Sr. 

"100 years ago, Rev. Blue fought to ensure Louisville’s Black community had access to library services and resources in a segregated Louisville. This spirit of equitable access to ideas, information, and education drives the work we do today at all 17 Louisville Free Public Library (LFPL) locations. We are grateful to Rev. Blue for his service to LFPL and the city of Louisville, and for the foundation he laid for future generations of librarians and library users across our country,” said Western Library Director Lee Burchfield.

Thank you for your service, Mr. & Mrs. Blue. May you both continue to rest in peace. 

Photo Courtesy of Alyssa Newton/WHAS-TV