Known as the “Black Jewel of the Midwest,” the George Cleveland Hall Branch of the Chicago Public Library has been serving the Bronzeville community since 1932. Earlier this year, it was recommended for landmark status for its role as a centerpiece of the Black Renaissance movement from the 1930s to the 1950s. Vivian G. Harsh, the branch's original head librarian and the first African-American to run a CPL branch, amassed her collection of African-American literature and history here. Through classes, programs and book clubs, she attracted notable Chicago writers such as Richard Wright, Langston Hughes and Lorraine Hansberry. “The programs brought in the cream of the crop of the African-American community,” said Beverly Cook, archivist of the Harsh Collection, which is now at Woodson Regional Library. Hall's enduring legacy, however, may be its children's programming, initiated in 1932 by children's librarian Charlemae Hill-Rollins, and continued today with weekly reading times for toddlers, kids and young adult discussion groups. Classes are offered for guitar, chess and computer basics. Authors and other performances, such as dance troupes, draw crowds to the 60-seat auditorium. For a library steeped in history, it remains vital today, with roughly 10,000 visitors monthly, according to head librarian Donna Morris.
Hall Library, 4801 S. Michigan Ave., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday and Wednesday, noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, closed Sunday, or go to chipublib.org.
Robert Duffer is a freelance writer in Chicago. Find him at robertduffer.com.
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