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Sun, 08.06.1905

Miriam Matthews, west coast historian

Miriam Matthews

*Miriam Matthews was born on this date in 1905. She was an African American historian, activist and lecturer.

From Pensacola, Florida, she was one of three children born to Ruben and Fannie (Elijah) Matthews. Her family moved to Los Angeles when she was a baby.  Matthews received her A. B. from the University of California in 1926 and her certificate of librarians hip one year later.  She was the first Black librarian in the Los Angeles Public Library system where she worked from 1927 to 1960, both as a branch librarian and as a supervisor of 12 branch libraries.

Despite conflicts to acknowledgment of her skills and expertise, Matthews rose to be a head librarian, and in the 1940s, was appointed regional librarian in the South Central area. She assembled an extensive collection of materials on Blacks in California history and in 1929, helped organize an observance of Negro History Week.  In addition to organizing book clubs and lectures for library visitors, she became well known for encouraging local Black artists.  In 1950, she co-founded the Associated Artists Gallery.

Throughout her career she strove to educate the public about Los Angeles's diversity from its beginnings, and as a result of her efforts, the plaza monument in El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Park lists the correct race, sex and age of each founder.  A book of photographs from her collection, "Angelinos of Ebony Hue: Glimpses of African American Participation in the Founding and Development of Los Angeles and Beyond," traces the influence of Black pioneers in Los Angeles from the 18th and early 19th centuries.

She was named to the California Heritage Preservation Commission, and in 1979 she played a key role in the establishment of an archive program for the city of Los Angeles. In 1996, Matthews moved to Mercer Island, Washington to be near her nephew. She died on June 23, 2003.

Reference:
Black Women in America An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York
ISBN 0-926019-61-9

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