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The man behind the nation's first Black library receives grave headstone more than 80 years after his death

Rev. Thomas F. Blue led the Western Branch Library, the only library in Louisville to be staffed and ran by African Americans.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The first African American man to lead a public library in the United States was honored in Louisville.

Mayor Greg Fischer, the Frazier History Museum and other organizations were on hand to dedicate a headstone honoring Rev. Thomas Fountain Blue and his wife Cornelia at Eastern Cemetery.

Blue was hired in 1905 to run the Western Branch Library on S. 10th and Chestnut Street. This library became the first free public library in the nation to be staffed and ran by African Americans.

He was the son of enslaved parents and Blue not only was a minister, educator and the leader of the Western Library, he was also a prominent figure in helping library services within the Louisville’s Black community.

“100 years ago, Rev. Blue fought to ensure Louisville’s Black community had access to library services and resources in a segregated Louisville. This spirit of equitable access to ideas, information, and education drives the work we do today at all 17 Louisville Free Public Library locations,” said Library Director Lee Burchfield. “We are grateful to Rev. Blue for his service to LFPL and the city of Louisville, and for the foundation he laid for future generations of librarians and library users across our country.”

Credit: Alyssa Newton/WHAS-TV
Annette Blue, the granddaughter of Rev. Thomas F. Blue speaks with Mayor Greg Fischer after a grave marker honoring him and his wife was unveiled at Eastern Cemetery on July 16, 2022.

Despite Blue and Cornelia’s contributions to the community, they were buried in unmarked graves and the locations were forgotten. It wasn't until a project that uncovered the history of Eastern Cemetery that their graves were located. 

Shortly after, efforts were made to get a headstone. 

“Part of our mission at the Frazier History Museum is to bridge divides and highlight voices that aren’t always included in our history,” the Frazier’s Director of Community Engagement Rachel Platt said. “It has been an honor to be among these partnering organizations to bring such deserved attention and a headstone to the Blue family.”

Blue’s granddaughter Annette called the gravestone “beautiful” and said she couldn’t wait to share photos of it with her father (Blue’s son), who is now 93-years-old.

The Western Library still plays a vital role in the community.

It was in danger of closing in 2001, the branch was in desperate need of funding. It wasn’t until Prince got word of it and through his Love 4 One Another Charities, he wrote a check for $12,000.

Prince check

The library is also home to African American Archives which features resources dedicated to African American history. They include papers of Blue and poet Joseph S. Cotter Sr.

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