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Thomas F. Blue
The 1870 birth of Reverend Thomas F. Blue is celebrated on this date. He was a Black minister, educator, administrator, and librarian.
The son of former slaves, Blue was born in Farmville, Virginia. He graduated from Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in 1888. He taught in Virginia and earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1898 from Richmond Theological Seminary. Around the turn of the last century, he was a secretary of the YMCA, serving Spanish American War soldiers, moving to Louisville in the same capacity from 1899 to 1905.
In 1905, Blue was chosen to head the Louisville Western Branch Library. This was the first public library in the nation to serve African American clientele with an exclusively African American staff. What began in three rented rooms of a private home on the Western side of town moved to a dedicated building built by Andrew Carnegie in 1908.
In 1914, Blue opened Louisville’s second Carnegie branch library for African Americans in Eastern Louisville. In 1919, with the addition of the two new branches, a “Colored Department” was created, the first example of such an organization in any public library system in the United States.
Blue lead the department, which included eight assistants, two junior high schools, 15 stations, and 80 classroom collections in 29 buildings. 99 centers for the circulation of books for home use in 46 Louisville and Jefferson County buildings made up his administrative duties. Although Rev. Blue spoke of himself as “untrained, like Dewey was untrained,” his most far-reaching work was creating an apprentice class for those wanting to enter library service. Blue’s class drew students from as far away as Houston and led to the establishment of the Hampton Library School in Virginia.
He was a respected leader in the civic, religious, and educational life of the Louisville Black community. He served the Louisville Free Public Library from 1905 until his death 30 years later, achieving national recognition as a pioneer in the field of public service. Rev. Thomas Blue died in 1935.