From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

The Other Library Employees : The Early Janitors

(start date: 1869  -  end date: 1946) This entry gives recognition to "the other" African American library employees. In this group are the janitors who were truly the first African American employees in many Kentucky libraries. Their names do not show up in the library literature, except for Isaac E. Black who was an exception. For all others, the career of librarian and the job of janitor did not mix, but they were one in race. Janitors were not considered members of the library profession or the library staff. When the first African American janitors were hired, they were workers whose duties included keeping libraries clean and making repairs. The janitors were not hired to be seen or to be heard. The new paradigm was probably not discussed or debated, and there was the idea that the situation was normal because black men had always worked in places they could not patronize. Yet and still, the janitor, a black man, was in the white library and getting paid to be there. The library rules of segregation had been tweaked into a state of opposition and there would be more changes concerning African Americans and libraries in Kentucky. The library world has not always been logical, kind, or righteous. A humorous piece by Will Manley notes what should be the appreciated value of library janitors today, "Who has the best janitor in libraryland?," American Libraries, Mar1996, v.27, p.112. See also W. Manley, "And the winner is Harry Davis: winner of the first Willie Award for the best janitor in libraryland," American Libraries, August 1996, v.27, p.112.   

Going back to earlier times in Kentucky, Isaac E. Black (1848-1914) was a janitor at the Kenton County Courthouse which had a law library. The courthouse and library were located in Covington, and Isaac E. Black was employed there from 1869-1874. During his employment, Isaac E. Black began studying law and became so familiar with the law library collection that he also served as the librarian, but he was only paid for being the janitor. Isaac E. Black considered suing the City of Covington for the pay he did not receive while serving as the librarian. In later years, he moved to Louisville where he was a partner in the first African American law firm in Kentucky, Harper & Black. Louisville, KY, was a place where African Americans could find growing room. The city was the national leader in promoting colored library branches and the education and employment of African American librarians and staff members. A benchmark is the 1905 opening of the Western Colored Branch Library that is still open today. A missing piece of the story is that before there were colored libraries and librarians to manage them, their predecessors were the African American janitors, such as Isaac E. Black.  

In the Lexington Public Library, one of the first African American employees was Sidney D. Brown, a janitor who died in 1915. Sidney Brown had been with the library for 17 years. The janitors in the Lexington Public Library were the only African American employees until 1949 when the all-female staff was hired for the new Laura Carroll Colored Branch Library. Before all of that, it was Sidney Brown and the janitors who represented as African American employees. When Sidney Brown became sick in 1914 and could no longer work, his wife Lucy Brown showed up at the library ready to take his place. There isn't a record of the actual conversation, but in the end, the Lexington Public Library agreed to let Lucy Brown be the pseudo-janitor. Lucy and Sidney had been married three years and the family needed the income. Lucy Brown was not the official janitor; she was an extension of her husband, she was standing-in until "he" returned to work. The Lexington Public Library was segregated and there were patriarchal ideas about who should be the janitor. Sidney D. Brown never returned to work, he died November 1, 1915 and he is buried in African Cemetery #2 in Lexington. His wife, who had served in his place as the library janitor for a year, was let go. There were few women who worked as library janitors in Kentucky.  When Lucy Brown was released, Jesse Bryant was hired at $40 per month, the same wages as Sidney Brown had earned. In 1920, Andrew Withrow was hired as the janitor at $15 per week.  

Hiring African American men as janitors created an opportunity in a few of the white-only libraries for there to be a Black person inside Kentucky libraries. They may have been viewed as invisible and silent employees, but these men were cleaning, fixing, looking, listening, reading, and telling others of the employment in libraries. The early names are from the mid to late 1800s, and from there, the employment of African American janitors was off to a slow start. The colored branch libraries got a later start in the 1890s. By 1910, there were as many African American janitors (males) employed in segregated libraries in Kentucky as there were African American library personnel (women) in the colored library branches. Most of both were hired in Louisville. The names of the colored branches and the library personnel can be found in newspaper articles and in the library literature. The names, along with the names of the janitors, can also be found in library board minutes, employee records, budget reports, and payroll records. They are also listed by name and occupation in city directories and the U.S. Census records. The identity of the janitors was not a secret. It was an intentional decision not to include them in the listing of library staff members. None of which changes the fact that when talking about the history of the African American library movement in Kentucky, it all starts with the janitors. Below are a few of the names of the African American janitors and other non-staff library employees in Kentucky. 

SOURCES: For more about the Lexington Public Library janitors see Library Services to African Americans in Kentucky by R. F. Jones. Links to the following entries are listed below:  see the Isaac E. Black entry in the NKAA Database; see the Western Colored Branch Library entry in the NKAA Database; see Colored Reading Room, Lexington Carnegie Public Library entry in the NKAA Database; for more about the first African American library staff in Lexington, see the Laura Carroll Colored Branch Library entry in the NKAA Database. See also the subject search Colored Public Libraries in Kentucky.

OTHER AFRICAN AMERICAN LIBRARY EMPLOYEES

Allen, James (b.1883 in KY), married, lived in Louisville, public library janitor, 1910
Anderson, Abby (b.1875 in KY), married, lived in Louisville, public library watchman, 1930
Archer, Clarence (b.1879 in MS), married, lived in Paducah, public library janitor, 1914, 1920
Archer, Joe (b.1874 in MS), married, lived in Paducah, library janitor, 1930
Baker, Fin (b.1870 in KY), married, lived in Paducah, library janitor, 1920
Bailey, William lived in Louisville, public library janitor, 1915
Black, Isaac E. (1848-1914), married, lived in Covington, Courthouse law library janitor and librarian, 1869-1874
Boyd, William (b.1881 in KY), married, lived in Louisville, library janitor, 1926, 1930
Bradford, Walter (b.1905 in KY), married, lived in Louisville, public library janitor, 1940
Brooks, James F. (b.1865 in KY), married, lived in Louisville, library janitor, 1930
Brown, John Edward (b.1897 in AL), lived in Louisville, Crescent Hill Branch Library janitor, 1942
Brown, Lucy female, married, lived in Lexington, public library janitor, 1914-1915
Brown, Sidney
(1879-1915, born in KY), married, lived in Lexington, public library janitor, 1898-1914
Bryant, Jesse lived in Lexington, public library janitor, 1915-1920
Cambron, Johnnie Henry (b.1897 in KY), lived in Frankfort, state library, 1942
Cambron, Willie (b.1895 in KY), single, lived in Bardstown, KY, library laborer, 1910
Campbell, Monroe(sp) (b.1851 in KY), widowed, lived in Hopkinsville, public library janitor, 1920
Claybrook, Frank W. lived in Louisville, Western Colored Branch Library janitor, 1926
Coleman, Robert
(b.1878 in KY), single, lived in Versailles, KY, house boy in the library, 1910
Davis, Fletcher (b.1893 in KY), married, lived in Frankfort, office boy at state library, 1930
Dozier, George (b.1882 in TN), married, lived in Henderson, KY, library janitor, 1910
Drane, George W. (b.1850 in TN), married, lived in Louisville, library janitor, 1920
Dupee, Richard (b.1873 in KY), married, lived in Louisville, public library janitor, 1910
Evans, Harrit (b.1881 in KY), female, single, lived in Henderson, library keeper, 1910
Ezzard, Anderson (b.1902 in GA), married, lived in Louisville, library chauffer, 1930
Florida, Georgia (b.1860 in KY), female, widowed, lived in Louisville, library maid, 1920
Foster, William H. (b.1870 in TN), married, lived in Louisville, public library janitor, 1910
Freeman, Jerry (1880-1912, born in TN), married, lived in Short Creek (Fulton County), library janitor, ????-1912
Gannaway, William (b.1860 in TN), married, lived in Louisville, library janitor, 1930
Glass, Charles S. (b.1880 in KY), widowed, lived in Louisville, public library porter, 1920, public library janitor, 1930
Grigsby, James (b.1884 in KY), single, lived in Louisville, public library janitor, 1920
Hall, Motto (b.1888 in KY), single, lived in Louisville, library porter, 1930
Johnson, James (b.1880 in TN), married, lived in Louisville, library janitor, 1930
Johnson, Mary (b.1886 in KY), female, married, lived in Louisville, library janitor, 1930
Johnson, Ossie (b.1892 in KY), single, lived in Louisville, library janitor, 1920, 1930
Martin, John H. (b.1899 in KY), married, lived in Louisville, library janitor, 1930
Masterson, Hester (b.1870 in KY), female, married, lived in Louisville, library maid, 1930
May, Weller (b.1884 in KY), married, lived in Louisville, public library janitor, 1920
Mayfield, Stephen (b.1854 in GA), widowed, lived in Louisville, library janitor, 1910
Miller, Albert (b.1848 in KY), married, lived in Louisville, public library janitor, 1920
Murry, David (b.1850 in KY), married, lived in Maysville, library janitor, 1920
Nunn, Edmund (b.1859 in KY), single, lived in Henderson, library janitor, 1930
Overstreet, Richard Denny (b.1912 in KY), married, lived in Frankfort, state library extension porter, 1940
Perkins, Hershel lived in Louisville, public library janitor, 1922
Prosser, Calvin (b.1882 in TN), single, lived in Louisville, library janitor, 1910
Queen, Annie (b.1888 in GA), female, married, lived in Louisville, library maid, 1930   
Rowan, Virgie (b.1866 in KY), female, married, lived in Louisville, library janitor, 1910
Shuck, Clarence (b.1878 in KY), married, lived in Louisville, public library janitor, 1910
Signor, Pres (b.1859 in KY), married, lived in Louisville, public library janitor, 1910
Strauss, James S. (b.1885 in KY), widowed, lived in Louisville, library janitor, 1930
Taylor, Ellis (b.1880 in KY), widowed, lived in Louisville, library janitor, 1920
Taylor, Thomas (b.1888 in KY), single, lived in Louisville, public library janitor, 1920
Thomas, Charles Herman (b.1900 in VA), lived in Louisville, branch library janitor, 1942
Thomas, Sudi (b.1881 in KY), female, married, lived in Maysville, public library janitor, 1910
Watkins, Eugene Augustus (b.1901 in KY), lived in Henderson, public library janitor, 1942
Watts, Arthur Henry (1882-1953, born in KY), lived in Louisville, Shelby Park Branch Library janitor, 1916-1946
William, Harry (b.1877 in KY), married, lived in Louisville, library janitor, 1920
Wilson, William W. (b.1869 in KY), married, lived in Frankfort, messenger at state library, 1920
Withrow, Andrew H. (b.1875 in KY), married, lived in Lexington, library janitor, 1920
Yancy, Moses (b.1870 in KY), married, lived in Louisville, night watch at library, 1920
Young, Herbert (b.1897 in KY), married, lived in Owensboro, library janitor, 1920

SOURCES: U.S. Census Records, Draft Registration Cards, City Directories, Newspapers, Death Certificates.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Mason County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Jefferson County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about McCracken County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Kenton County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Fayette County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Franklin County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Henderson County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Nelson County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Christian County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Woodford County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Fulton County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Daviess County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Maysville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Louisville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Paducah, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Covington, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Lexington, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Frankfort, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Henderson, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Bardstown, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Hopkinsville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Versailles, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Fulton, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Owensboro, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Short Creek, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

References

Cited in this Entry

NKAA Entry: Western Colored Branch Library, Louisville, KY (Jefferson County)
NKAA Entry: African Cemetery No. 2 (Lexington, KY)
NKAA Entry: Black, Isaac E.
NKAA Entry: Colored Reading Room, Lexington Carnegie Public Library (Fayette County, KY)
NKAA Entry: Laura Carroll Colored Branch Library, Lexington, KY (Fayette County)
NKAA Source: Library service to African Americans in Kentucky, from the Reconstruction Era to the 1960s
NKAA Source: American libraries (periodical)

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“The Other Library Employees : The Early Janitors,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed October 30, 2020, https://nkaa.uky.edu/nkaa/items/show/300004134.

Last modified: 2020-08-12 15:56:32