AARL-History of AARL


Auburn Branch of the Carnegie Library of Atlanta

Decades before the Auburn Avenue Research Library opened, its core collection was formed at the Auburn Branch of the Carnegie Library of Atlanta. The one-story red-brick building, located at 333 Auburn Avenue, officially opened July 25, 1921, becoming Atlanta's first public library branch for African Americans. Before then, black citizens were excluded under the era's Jim Crow laws from public library service in the city, which began in 1902. In the book, Living Atlanta: An Oral History of the City, 1914-1948 (1990) Homer Nash, a black physician whose practice was on Auburn Avenue, recalled the period before the branch opened as a time when African Americans "had such a hard time getting books."

From 1921 until the branch closed in 1959, numerous women of color managed and administered the facility and provided educational and community programming. Among them were Alice Dugged Cary and Annie L. McPheeters, who was responsible for much of the development of the core collection, known as the Negro History Collection, in size and significance. A special, noncirculating collection, it was formally organized in 1934, the same year McPheeters was appointed assistant librarian.

Negro History CollectionThe Negro History Collection comprised the volumes owned by the Auburn Branch in combination with titles acquired through an adult education project sponsored by the American Association of Adult Education, the American Library Association, and the Julius Rosenwald Fund. Later, a group of children's books—named for Arna Bontemps, a noted Harlem Renaissance writer who became a children's book author and librarian—were added. From the mid-1930s to the late 1940s the collection grew to include bound copies of magazines, newspapers, and scholarly journals by, for, and about African Americans, including the Atlanta Daily World, Crisis, Journal of Negro Education, and Negro History Bulletin.

During the same period, increasing numbers of African Americans migrated to Atlanta's west side. Accompanying this growth were residents' demands for expanded public library service. In response, the city allocated funds for the construction of another library branch to serve the needs of black citizens. On December 6, 1949, the newly built West Hunter Branch opened on the corner of West Hunter Street and Morris Brown Drive. It became the second home of the Negro History Collection. For the next two decades, during which time the AFPLS desegregated in 1959, the collection remained at the West Hunter Branch, where McPheeters served as librarian until her retirement from the library system in 1966.

In 1970 the Negro History Collection moved once again from the WestAuburn Avenue Research Library Hunter Branch to the downtown Carnegie Library building, just off Peachtree Street, where Central Library now stands at One Margaret Mitchell Square. One year later, the AFPLS Board of Trustees officiated the status of the collection, naming it the Samuel W. Williams Collection on Black America, in honor of the Atlanta-based educator, theologian, and philosopher. The collection remained at the main library until 1994 when it was transferred to the newly built Auburn Avenue Research Library, a 50,000-square-foot, four-story structure of red brick and black granite at the corner of Auburn Avenue and Courtland Street. Following almost fifteen years of growth, however, the library outgrew its space. On November 4, 2008, Fulton County voters approved a library bond referendum, which included funds to enhance and expand the facility.


Through the years the collection has steadily grown and has served as a research source for library users searching for information on the Black experience. It is a fitting tribute that this special library of the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System resides on the Avenue where it all began!

  • In 1921, the Atlanta Public Library opened the Auburn Branch of the Carnegie Library for Atlanta's Black citizens.
  • From 1921 to 1929, Mrs. Alice Dugged Cary, the first non-professional African American librarian, served as branch head.
  • From 1929 to 1959, the Auburn Branch developed under the stewardship of the following individuals:
  1. Mrs. Mildred Gaines (1929 -1932)
  2. Mrs. Anne Rucker Anderson (1932)
  3. Mrs. Mae Z. Marshall Shepard (1932 -1936)
  4. Mrs. Annie L. Walters McPheeters (1936 -1949)
  5. Mrs. R. Leathers (1949 -1957)
  6. Mrs. Goldie Culpepper Johnson (1959 -1960)
  • In 1934, The Negro History Collection of Non-Circulating Books was established at the Auburn Branch.
  • In 1936, Mrs. Annie L. McPheeters (1936 -1949) became the first African American professional librarian in the Atlanta Public Library. She served as branch head.
  • In 1941, the University Homes Reading Room was established under the supervision of the Auburn Branch Librarian. Mrs. Ethel Hawkins, a librarian residing in the University Homes Project, and the former assistant librarian at the Auburn Branch, volunteered to manage the Reading Room. In 1942, the Reading Room was designated as a branch of the Atlanta Public Library. The University Homes Branch operated from 1941 to 1962.
  • In 1949, West Hunter Branch was the third public library to be opened for Atlanta's black citizens. The Negro History Collection was transferred from the Auburn Branch to the West Hunter Branch.
  • In 1959, the Auburn Branch was closed to the public.
  • In 1970, The Negro History Collection was transferred from the West Hunter Branch (now known as the Washington Park/Annie L. McPheeters Branch) to the Central Library. Ms. Francine l. Henderson was appointed curator of the Negro History Collection.
  • On November 21, 1971, The Negro History Collection was renamed The Samuel W. Williams Collection on Black America in honor of the Rev. Samuel W. Williams, former pastor of the historic Friendship Baptist Church and professor of Religion and Theology at Morehouse College.
  • In 1972, Ms. N. Louise Wil|ingham was appointed Curator of the newly established Special Collections Department in the Central Library, which included the Williams Collection; and served in this capacity until 1975. In 1975, Ms. Janice White Sikes assumed responsibility as Curator of the Special Collections Department until 1993.
  • In March 1993, The Special Collections Department was closed to the public in order to process the Samuel W. Williams Collection on Black America in preparation for its fourth and final move.
  • In December 1993, Mrs. Julie V. Hunter was named Administrator of the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History.
  • In April 1994, the Samuel W. Williams Collection on Black America was transferred from the Central Library to the new Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History.
  • On May 16, 1994, the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History opened for service, becoming the first public library of its kind in the Southeast.
  • In October 1998, Dr. Joseph F. Jordan was named the second Research Library Administrator of the Auburn Avenue Research Library.
  • Francine I. Henderson served as the third Research Library Administrator, from January 2003 to September 2013.
  • In 2008, the citizens of Fulton County voted in favor of the $275 million Library Bond Referendum for capital improvements to the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System.
  • In July 2014, the Auburn Avenue Research Library temporarily closed for its renovation and expansion.
  • In July 2016, Victor E. Simmons, Jr. becomes the fourth Administrator of the Auburn Avenue Research Library.
  • The newly renovated and expanded Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History reopened on August 4, 2016.
  • In 2019, the Auburn Avenue Research Library celebrated its 25th anniversary at the 101 Auburn Avenue location.



Back to Top