Regina Anderson Andrews, Harlem Renaissance Librarian

Posted in Biography, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, United States, Women on 2014-11-09 17:52Z by Steven

Regina Anderson Andrews, Harlem Renaissance Librarian

University of Illinois Press
May 2014
176 pages
6 x 9 in.
23 black & white photographs

Ethelene Whitmire, Associate Professor of Library & Information Studies
University of Wisconsin, Madison

The life of a groundbreaking librarian and Harlem Renaissance figure

The first African American to head a branch of the New York Public Library (NYPL), Regina Andrews led an extraordinary life. Allied with W. E. B. Du Bois, Andrews fought for promotion and equal pay against entrenched sexism and racism and battled institutional restrictions confining African American librarians to only a few neighborhoods within New York City.

Andrews also played a key role in the Harlem Renaissance, supporting writers and intellectuals with dedicated workspace at her 135th Street Branch Library. After hours she cohosted a legendary salon that drew the likes of Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. Her work as an actress and playwright helped establish the Harlem Experimental Theater, where she wrote plays about lynching, passing, and the Underground Railroad.

Ethelene Whitmire’s new biography offers the first full-length study of Andrews’ activism and pioneering work with the NYPL. Whitmire’s portrait of her sustained efforts to break down barriers reveals Andrews’s legacy and places her within the NYPL’s larger history.

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Breaking the Color Barrier: Regina Andrews and the New York Public Library

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2013-05-23 02:26Z by Steven

Breaking the Color Barrier: Regina Andrews and the New York Public Library

Libraries & the Cultural Record
Volume 42, Number 4, 2007
pages 409-421
DOI: 10.1353/lac.2007.0068

Ethelene Whitmire, Associate Professor of Library & Information Studies
University of Wisconsin, Madison

Chicago native Regina Anderson Andrews (1901–93) was a librarian in the New York Public Library (NYPL) system for nearly half a century beginning in 1923 at the 135th Street branch (now the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture) until her retirement from the Washington Heights branch in 1967. Andrews broke the color barrier by becoming the first African American supervising librarian in NYPL history. Her accomplishment was not an easy one. This article illustrates Andrews’s groundbreaking career as a librarian and activist, including her fight, with W. E. B. Du Bois as a powerful ally, against the NYPL administration for opportunities for promotion and equal pay.

“I’m American,” Regina Anderson wrote in 1923 on her application for a position in the New York Public Library (NYPL) when asked to give her race. Three or four days after she completed the application at the main branch on 42nd Street, Anderson received a request to return to discuss her answers—this one in particular. Asked again about her racial designation and stating firmly that she was American, Anderson was told, “You’re not an American. You’re not white.”

Like untold numbers of U.S. citizens, Anderson came from a multicultural background requiring a roadmap to follow. Her father, William Grant “Habeas Corpus” Anderson, a prominent criminal lawyer in Chicago, was the son of a Swedish immigrant and his American Indian wife. Her mother, Margaret Simons, was the daughter of Henry Simons, the son of an Arkansas Confederate general and an immigrant Jewish woman. Henry’s wife, Regina’s maternal grandmother, was the offspring of a  Madagascar woman and an East Indian man. Regina considered herself an American.

In December 1924, a year after the application incident, this “pert olive-skinned girl” would grace the cover of Messenger magazine’s issue that featured “Negro women who are unique, accomplished, beautiful, intelligent, industrious, talented and successful.”

The NYPL hired Anderson, but because of her color, her interviewer told her, “We’ll have to send you to Harlem.” Besides determining her…

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