“The Carter G. Woodson Regional Library” by S.M. O’Connor

The Carter G. Woodson Regional Library, at 9525 South Halsted Street (at the intersection with West 95th Street) on the Southwest Side of Chicago, is one of two regional libraries in the Chicago Public Library System (the other being the Conrad Sulzer Regional Library).  Located on the border of the Oakdale neighborhood in the Washington Heights community area, a few blocks east of the 9.5-acre Oakdale Park, it is the system’s largest library on the South Side of Chicago.

The regional library was named after Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950), a Black African-American educator, historian, journalist, and author, known as the Father of Black History.  Professor Woodson was only the second African-American (after W.E.B. Du Bois) to earn a doctorate from Harvard.  He wrote fifteen books, one of which was The Mis-Education of the Negro, published in 1933.  It was in Chicago that in 1915, he founded the Association for the Study of Negro History and Life. In 1921, Professor Woodson founded Associated Publishers, which continues to publish the Journal of Negro History, which in 2002 changed its name to the Journal of African American History. In 1926, he proposed that the second week of February be set aside every year as “Negro History Week,” to celebrate the birth dates of Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, which grew into the national celebration of African American History Month.   The Library of Congress traveling exhibition on Dr. Woodson’s work, Moving Back Barriers, was at the Du Sable Museum of African American History (in Chicago’s Hyde Park) in August and September of 1994.

The Woodson Regional Library is home to a number of artworks.  They are award-winning local sculptor Richard Hunt’s tall welded bronze-and-brass sculpture entitled Jacob’s Ladder (1997), a mural by local teacher Aoko Omwony-Hope, and other sculptures by New York-based artist Charles Searles and local artist Bernard Williams (not to be confused with the late philosopher Sir Bernard Williams or the Olympic athlete Bernard Williams).

The Woodson Regional Library opened on December 9, 1975 in a two-story building that housed the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, the largest of its kind in the Midwest.  The Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature was established as the Special Negro Collection by Vivian Gordon Harsh (1890-1960), while she was Branch Head of the George C. Hall Branch Library, a position she held from 1932 to 1958.

In 1998, a new 11,000 square foot wing was added to accommodate donations to the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection.  It opened on January 25, 1999.  Ten years later, in 2009, Robert Sengstacke, a photographer and former editor of the Chicago Defender whose father, John H. Sengstacke (1912-1997), owned, edited and published the Defender from 1940 to 1997, and whose great-uncle Robert Sengstacke Abbott (1870-1940) had founded the newspaper in 1905, donated the newspaper’s archives to the Woodson Regional Library.

The public service areas of the Woodson Regional Library are the Children’s Library, Social Sciences, Humanities, Science & Technology, Serials, and Media Center. The Featured Collections at the Woodson Regional Library are the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History & Literature, and the Weigle Photographic Materials.  The Woodson Regional Library has an auditorium with a capacity to hold 180 people, and three meeting rooms with a capacity of 30 people each, two of which cannot be subdivided.

The Addie & Claude Wyatt Papers Donated to Chicago Public Library

      On Friday, August 6, 2010, Mayor Richard M. Daley held a press conference at the Harold Washington Library Center to announce the donation of the Rev. Addie & Rev. Claude Wyatt Papers, 1958-1999 (inclusive dates 1851-2010) to the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History & Literature.  According to Chicago Sun-Times staff reporter Maudlyne Ihejirika, Mayor Daley said, “When we think about the African-American community, we think about those who have made a difference, and Claude and Addie Wyatt represent how two people can make a difference not only in the city, but for the country and the world.”    He called them “role models for future generations.”

The collection of 345 containers worth of papers, photos, tapes, and memorabilia had actually been donated in 2007, but it took until 2010 to process the archival collection.  Claude Wyatt died in April of 2010 at the age of eighty-eight.  The press conference was attended by Addie Wyatt and her son Claude Wyatt III.  Activists Rev. Claude Wyatt and wife Addie were married for sixty-nine years.  They were co-founders and co-pastors of the Vernon Park Church of God, which they established in a garage on the South Side of Chicago in 1955.  Rev. Addie Wyatt was also a meatpacking worker and an active participant in the labor union movement, starting in the 1940s.  She had leadership positions in the United Packinghouse Workers of America, the Amalgamated Meat Cutters Union, and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.  Mrs. Wyatt was a co-founder of the Coalition of Labor Union Women and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.

The collection consists of archival records of the church and three labor unions; taped interviews with Addie Wyatt; her taped speeches at conferences; taped sermons delivered by Claude & Addie Wyatt; and manuscripts of their writings.  It includes photos of, and correspondence with, Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962); the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), and his wife Coretta Scott King (1927-2006); U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton; Chicago Mayors Harold Washington (1922-1987) and Richard M. Daley; Johnson Publishing Company founder John H. Johnson (1918-2005); Dorothy Height (1912-1920), President of the National Council of Negro Women (1957-1997); and singer-actress-turned-philanthropist Etta Moten Barnett (1901-2004).  The Rev. Addie & Rev. Claude Wyatt Papers take up 200 linear feet.

Construction Projects

      The Woodson Regional Library gained a YOUmedia facility opened in February of 2015.  The lighting and ceiling were recently replaced and the fire alarm system was upgraded.

As of July of 2017, the facility is closed while it is being remodeled.  The Woodson Regional Library closed in 2016 and, if everything goes according to plan, it should re-open in late 2017.  The building is undergoing a “complete envelope replacement.”  This means the roof, façade, and windows are all being replaced, as are the guardrails and handrails on the monumental stairway.  In addition, the flooring, lighting, and paint in the lobby and other public areas are being replaced.  Study rooms are being built on the 2nd floor.  Two handicapped parking spaces are being created.

Some materials from the Harsh Collection are available at the Harold Washington Library Center (H.W.L.C.).  The Harsh Research Collection staff has moved to the H.W.L.C., where they continue to work as a team on acquiring, processing, and preserving materials about the Black African-American experience in Chicago and the greater Midwest.  Please note that one can only access these materials by appointment while they are at the H.W.L.C.  Researchers should make an appointment by writing Harsh Collection, Harold Washington Library Center, 400 South State Street, 5th Floor, Chicago, Illinois 60605; or e-mailing harshcollection@chipublib.org; or calling (312) 745-2080.  A researcher should initiate contact three weeks before he or she wishes to have access.  The Harsh Research Collection staff will respond within three business days.  It may not be practical to transport some materials from the Woodson Regional Library to the Washington Library Center.

Starting on November 13, 2016, the Avalon, Beverly, and West Pullman branch libraries are open for longer hours to accommodate library users who would normally visit the Woodson Regional Library.  The Avalon Branch Library is located at 8148 South Stony Island Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60617.  The Beverly Branch Library is located at 1962 West 95th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60643.  The West Pullman Branch Library is located at 830 West 119th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60643.

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