Carver/McDonald Branch of the Ouachita Library

The George Washington Carver Branch of the Ouachita Parish Library for colored citizens was constructed in 1949.

In the mid 40’s, the desire to learn among Negroes was great but the availability of books was a rarity. Those who acquired books received them as donations from whites when they were worn out or purchased them in other cities. Monroe had a small one room library on Wood Street for whites only. It was supported mainly from revenues bequeathed by the late Anna Ruth Meyer who died in 1920. Although both the City of Monroe and Ouachita Parish Police Jury supported the library with public funds, colored citizens were not allowed use of its facilities.

In 1946, Frances Flanders was named head librarian and she pushed to expand the library’s services throughout the parish and to the colored community as well. In 1947, a parish wide 1/2 mill tax was passed to finance the operation of the library, but colored citizens were still excluded. Segregation laws and community sentiment made it impossible for coloreds and whites to use the same library but the legality of denying Negroes the use of the library maintained with tax dollars was a point of concern. In 1949, B. D. Robinson then president of the Negro Chamber of Commerce, led a group of Negroes in a effort to petition the Ouachita Parish Police Jury for the construction of a library for Negroes.

The police jury was slow to respond but Robinson convinced mayor Coon to help the Negro community in the effort. Mayor Coon had an old army barrack from the military base at Selman field moved to a lot of city own property on North 10th Street. The building was refurbished and the police jury furnished and stocked it with books for us by Negroes. After the building was constructed, a dispute broke out between Negro leaders and the white community over the selection of a librarian.

The white community, doubting the ability of Negroes to operate a library, insisted that the library must have a white librarian and Negroes, led by Robinson, Ellen Hoston, I. B. January, E. W. Sims, R. O. Pierce, N. E. Covington, Dr. J. B. Thompson, and H. H. Marbles resisted. The white community, knowing that was no Negro in the city with a certified library science degree, insisted upon a certified librarian. Robinson and the Negro Chamber began a search for a Negro librarian. They did not have to search long, because a young woman had recently moved from Texas to settle in Monroe, by chance she was a certified librarian. The Negro Chamber of Commerce, proud of its accomplishment, offered Mrs. Odalie McDonald as its choice for librarian at the Carver Branch.

The white community backed down and McDonald was appointed. On February 12, 1950 the community sponsored a grand opening of the Carver Branch Library. It was a victory for the Negro community and for the Negro Chamber of Commerce. McDonald served the library well and helped to gain the support of community groups and businesses in building the library’s collection of books. Some of the business donors included: Standard Office Supply, The Palace, The Ritz Theatre and Monroe Office Equipment. Mrs. McDonald selected an assistant to work with her, Mrs. Irene Dotson, who had just moved to the city from Arkansas. She taught Mrs. Dotson the operation of the library and when Mrs. McDonald stepped down, the community turned to Mrs. Dotson to take her place. Mrs. Dotson worked to develop summer reading and writing program at the library and to expand its use.

She continued her studies in the field and became a certified librarian herself. She selected a young lad as her assistant. He was Robert Tanzy. Tanzy often came to the library to help Mrs. Dotson shelve books. She taught him the branch’s operation. As the parish improved library complexes for white citizens the Carver Branch remained in a barrack on 10th Street. In 1956 the parish approved $700,000 for the building of new library facilities in the parish. In 1958 the West Monroe Branch was constructed at a cost of $185,000. In 1959 the main branch on Stubbs street was built at a cost of $390,000. In 1960 Anna Meyer Branch was constructed for $135,000.

As new library facilities were constructed and the civil rights movement came to Monroe, white citizens still prohibited Negroes from using the newly constructed libraries. Civil rights demonstrators lead by the Congress of Racial Equality (C.O.R.E.) and other local groups began sending Negroes to the main branch of the library and were charged with trespassing and disturbing the peace. The difference between the Carver Branch, housed in a barrack and the other libraries was too greet and to obvious. Plans for the re-location of the Carver Branch, which were a part of a 1956 proposal, was dusted off and hurriedly put into place. The city of Monroe, which owns the land where Carroll High School sits, made special arrangements for the Carver Branch to be built on its property on Renwick Street. But city leaders met opposition from Robinson and Negro leaders who did not want the new library on the school site. They argued that the library should be closer to the more populated Booker T. Community and more accessible to Negro citizens. Negro leaders, many of whom were often at odds with Carroll High School principal, Morris Henry Carroll, also complained that by building the library on the school campus it might be confused as a part of the school complex and not get maximum use.

Their complaints were ignored and the library was built on the campus and completed in December of 1964 at a cost of $66,921. It contained 5,278 square feet. The opening of the Carver Branch did little to stop the demand for fully integrated facilities and protestors led by Dr. John Reddix and others continued tests of the 1964 Civil Rights ACT until in 1965 the public libraries in Monroe began allowing Negroes to use all its facilities without obstructions.