Lending a piece of history to Pratt to mark renovation
First library card issued to a black Marylander among items for annex
By Jamie Stiehm
April 18, 2002
Louise Cummings Dorcas got a glimpse more than a century into the city's
past yesterday when she saw an enlarged image of her late father's library
card - the first issued to an
African-American in Maryland.
Dorcas, an art teacher at Frederick Douglass High School for about 40
years, does not remember her father, Harry S. Cummings, who died in 1917.
But she has been told many times that
he was one of the first two black graduates of the University of Maryland Law School and the first black member of the City Council. She has seen the letters written to her father from
Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass.
Issued by the newly opened Enoch Pratt Free Library in 1886, the card
sternly advises patrons that if a book is missing for 20 days, a messenger
will be sent for it. Her brother donated the
library card to the Maryland Historical Society years ago, where it was hidden away in an obscure corner.
But the Pratt Library's groundbreaking ceremony yesterday for an expansion
and renovation of the central library at 400 Cathedral St. was a good reason
to return the card to the city
It will soon have a new home. The library's expansion plans include
an annex that will house a reading room for display of the library's African-American
collection, much of which is kept
cloistered in the Pratt's 1933 main building.
"We have anti-slavery pamphlets from before the Civil War, books, journals,
family genealogy, slave narratives, travel logs," said Vivian Walker, manager
of the African-American
collection. "My charge is to let people know there's a premier collection in Baltimore."
The 14,000-volume African-American collection will be named after Eddie and Sylvia Brown, who gave $1 million last year, library officials said.
The annex also will display a collection of H.L. Mencken's letters and papers, library officials said.
The planned annex and renovation of the Depression-era building's heating
and air-conditioning system will cost about $60 million and take four or
five years to finish, state officials said.
The annex construction, which started in February, is a state-funded, $10.6 million project.
The groundbreaking comes less than eight months after the library closed
five of 26 branches, sparking a lawsuit by Association of Community Organizations
for Reform Now, known as
"We should never think of one or the other, community or central libraries.
We should fund both. ... I applaud ACORN. We're all fighting for the same
thing," Gov. Parris N. Glendening
After acknowledging the applause of Glendening, Mayor Martin O'Malley
and library board members at yesterday's event, Dorcas of West Baltimore
said, "It was a wonderful
Her father graduated from law school in 1889, two years before it became
racially segregated for the next 44 years. Thurgood Marshall was the local
counsel on a 1935 lawsuit brought by
the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. It broke down the color barrier, said Larry S. Gibson, a law professor at the University of Maryland.
Speaking of her late father, Dorcas said in an interview, "He broke ground, a different kind of ground."
Copyright © 2002, The Baltimore Sun