Five Trailblazers in Black Librarianship

From Virginia Florence, the first Black woman in the U.S. to receive a library science degree, to Clara Stanton Jones, the first Black president of the American Library Association, pioneers of the profession.

Today's Black librarians follow the path of those who came before them, breaking barriers and changing the profession.



Virginia Proctor Powell Florence | 1927

In 1927, Virginia Proctor Powell Florence became the first Black person to pass the New York State high school librarian exam and went on to be a high school librarian in Brooklyn, NY; Washington, DC; and Richmond, VA. Florence was also the first Black woman in the U.S. to receive a library science degree, which she earned at Pittsburgh Carnegie Library School in 1923.

She had a degree in English literature but could not get a job, because Pittsburgh schools didn’t hire Black teachers. She worked at the New York Public Library until 1927, when she passed the exam and fulfilled her dream of being an educator.

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Clara Stanton Jones | 1976

Clara Stanton Jones became the first Black president of the American Library Association in 1976.

Jones ran for the office in 1974 and lost, but the winner died before the end of her term, and Jones was nominated and became president in 1976.

In 1970, she became the first African American and first woman to lead a major U.S. library system when she became director of the Detroit Public Library.

Jones and Porter were two of four librarians awarded the inaugural Black Caucus of the American Library Association’s Trailblazer Award in 1990.

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (, @karayorio) is senior news editor at School Library Journal.

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