If one were asked to identify the main cultural hubs for African American literary activity, San Antonio, Texas would probably not be in the mix. Cities with much larger Black populations would lead the list. I am sure New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and Los Angeles, to name just a few would be mentioned. I acknowledge that these cities deserve such consideration.
However, let me add to this list the Carver Public Library, located in the center of the African American community in San Antonio. Named after the famous educator and scientist George Washington Carver, the library first opened its doors in 1930. It served the African American community during those terrible years when Blacks were refused entry into the Central Public library and all the other ancillary branches. There is probably no greater blemish on this country’s democracy than the fact that a race of people was barred from entering all of its libraries, the symbols of knowledge.
Today, the Carver Library is the center of cultural activities, presenting literary and cultural programs practically every weekend. Under the leadership of Branch Manager D. L. Grant, Carver is gaining the reputation as the most important institution in the city for dispensing information about our history. It also serves as a place where contemporary issues are discussed. Its activities have earned the Carver the title of a grandchild to the famous 135th Street Library in Harlem, during the great Renaissance period of the 1920’s. Under the leadership of Regina Andrews and Nella Larsen, that library hosted some of the most intense and informative literary events of the period. Such notables as Gwendolyn Bennett, Ethel Ray Nance, Jessie Fausett and Countee Cullen participated in poetry readings at the library. Langston Hughes and Claude McKay were provided writing areas in the basement. And the first exhibit of African American art in Harlem was held there.
The Carver mirrors the 135th Street Library with similar activities. For the past five years, the Carver has held a distinguished Martin Luther King Lecture Series, of which I had the pleasure to be their lecturer in 2012. In February of this year the library hosted an afternoon with an outstanding group of authors that included Mary Morrison, Rhonda Lawson, kYmberly Keeton, Dr. Mateen Diop and Chris Pittard, during Black History Literary Weekend. One of the more unique programs that Black Men United for Reading and Writing (a select group of Black men who sponsor literary events in the city) organized at the library is a series of Slave Narrative Readings, supported with spirituals sang by the men’s choir from St. Paul United Methodist Church.
This past weekend is typical of the programs the Carver Library supports on an on-going basis. Early Saturday afternoon Prosperity Publications hosted a discussion workshop titled, “The Deconstruction of the Black Woman in Literature, Film and Music.” Four of the most brilliant Black women in San Antonio shared their knowledge of the subject and the audience was allowed to respond. The session was recorded and will be loaded on You Tube within the next month. After that program Dr. Ronald Kelley, a motivational speaker and advisor to public schools on how to mentor young Black men, moderated a discussion around the Ferguson, Missouri tragedy. The library was packed with concerned citizens anxious to express their frustrations about the brutal murder of Michael Brown.
This community has come to depend on the Carver Library as the place to congregate and discuss relevant issues to the community. Just like the 135th Street Library in Harlem served as a gathering place for the many intellectuals, writers and community organizers, the Carver Public Library serves that function in 2014 for the same group of activists in San Antonio, Texas.