By Ty Fenwick
As men and women clad in suits and dresses flooded into the Center for Black Literature and Culture (CBLC) at Central Library on Oct. 19 to celebrate the center’s second anniversary, Earl Smith sat a table near the back of the room, tapping away at a black laptop.
Smith, 67, goes to the library three or four times a week. He’s a small business consultant and likes the convenience of the library for research.
But he also enjoys browsing through the collection of books and photos in the CBLC, which is cultivating and preserving Black culture and history.
“It’s important for African Americans to know about their heritage,” Smith said, “know about their background and to be able to have a sense of self-worth, of self-consciousness.”
The CBLC began in October 2017 thanks to $1.3 million grant from Lilly Endowment. More than 117,000 people have visited the nearly 4,000-square-foot center, located in the R.B. Annis West Reading Room.
Nichelle M. Hayes, who manages the center, worked for about nine months to get the area ready for patrons and has basically been the lone project leader over the last two years.
“It’s been a labor of love,” she said. “There have been a lot of long nights, a few tears along the way, but a lot of really great feelings and support from the community.”
The center is housed in a long room, lined with bookshelves and patterned with displays. But it’s not just material that makes the CBLC an asset for Indianapolis. Hayes said the most impactful program so far was getting a group of people together the week of July Fourth to read Frederick Douglass’ speech, “What is the Fourth of July to the Negro?”
Hayes described the CBLC as a window and mirror: It’s a window for those who aren’t a part of Black culture so they have a place to learn, and it’s a mirror for African Americans to “see themselves reflected in positive and powerful ways.”
Anthony Radford, who’s part of the library’s African American History Committee, said he still remembers the “oohs and aahs” from people who visited the CBLC for its grand opening.
“The minute you hit the doors, you just feel the warmth and the spirit of our ancestors,” he said. “Everybody that comes in here the first time is just overwhelmed.”
To celebrate the center’s second anniversary, the library invited members of some of the great Crispus Attucks High School basketball teams of the 1950s.
John Gipson played on the 1955 and ’56 championship teams. Gipson said he told his son about those teams from an early age, and it took him a while to grasp how big of a deal that was.
But what about others who vaguely know about Crispus Attucks’ history but don’t understand what it means? Resources like the CBLC will be there to fill those gaps.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.
This article originally appeared in The Indianapolis Recorder.