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Fri, 01.18.1907

Mollie Huston Lee, Librarian, and Administrator born

Mollie Huston Lee

*Mollie Huston Lee was born on this date in 1907. She was a Black librarian and administrator. Mollie Huston was born in Columbus, Ohio, to Corrina Smith Huston and Rolla Solomon Huston, a private business owner and politician. As the only child of "learned parents," there were always books around the family home, and growing up, Lee developed an interest in public affairs. 

While attending Howard University, Lee worked as a student library assistant under the direction of A.C. Williams, the man she described as the first black librarian ever to receive a library degree in this country. Lee acknowledged A.C. Williams as the inspiration for her future efforts as a pioneering librarian. After earning an A.B. from Howard University, Lee received a scholarship to attend library school at Columbia University.

After receiving a Bachelor of Library Science from Columbia University, Lee returned to North Carolina in 1930 and began working as a librarian at Shaw University. She married Dr. James S. Lee in 1935 and had one son, James S. Lee Jr. During her five-year employment at the Shaw University Library; Lee recognized the need among blacks in the surrounding community for an African American literature collection. She felt she could meet this need through the services of a public library. In 1905 public library service was extended to blacks in Charlotte, North Carolina, but Raleigh had to wait another thirty years.

By 1935 there were only twelve black public libraries in North Carolina. However, little action was taken in most areas of North Carolina to open libraries to blacks. Mollie Huston Lee advocated for bringing a library serving African Americans to Raleigh. Lee and a group of community members met in 1935 with the white mayor to discuss the creation of a public library that would serve blacks. Fulfilling a goal to establish a black literary collection at a library, the Richard B. Harrison Public Library opened on November 12, 1935.

Lee frequently brought the library to patrons when they could not visit it. Her actions encouraged community members to use the library and its resources.  Despite trying economic conditions, the library's resources continued to expand due to Lee's efforts. In addition to establishing a library and services for blacks in Raleigh, Lee also assisted in training future library science students from Atlanta UniversityNorth Carolina Central University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She created a well-defined community affairs philosophy evident throughout her career. e served as the supervisor of Negro School Libraries in North Carolina from 1946 to 1953.

Lee's dedication to African Americans in Raleigh, Wake County, and North Carolina is best evident in the extensive collection of books and other resources by and about African Americans she established, making the Harrison Library groundbreaking. This collection of over 5,000 volumes ranging from adult and children's fiction and nonfiction, serials, pamphlets, and vertical file materials grew gradually at the Harrison Library. An annual appropriation from the State Library of North Carolina for twelve years provided financial assistance for the collection. The collection now became accessible to the public libraries of North Carolina through the State Library's Interlibrary loan.

Programming at the Harrison Library included lectures featuring black and white speakers, children's authors, and an expanded storytime. An emphasis was placed on adult education. Educational programs directed to the rural Raleigh area provided instruction in developing reading and writing skills. Discussion groups were also created for all ages to keep community members informed and aware of current news issues. The Harrison Library was known regionally and nationally for providing services and programs for the aged, blind, disadvantaged, and illiterate.

Programming at the Harrison Library fulfilled a need within the community. During her 37-year career at the Harrison Library, she saw the library evolve from a tiny, one-room storefront library on Hargett Street to a $300,000 structure on New Bern Avenue. She retired from a 42-year library career on June 30, 1972. She was a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) library delegate and a trustee of the State Library of North Carolina.

Lee also was instrumental in the foundation of the North Carolina Negro Library Association (NCNLA), which dissolved once the American Library Association (A.L.A.) and the North Carolina Library Association opened membership to African Americans. She was the second African American elected at-large to the A.L.A. council, serving from 1950 to 1954. Mollie Huston Lee died on January 26, 1982.

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