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Library and Information Science


Willie Hartwell was born in 1942 Glenn, Texas and grew up in Houston, where she lived on Andrews Street in the city’s Fourth Ward. There, she graduated from the Gregory School before attending Booker T. Washington High School. Later moving to the Third Ward with her mother, Hartwell attended Miller Junior and Yates (now Jack Yates) Senior high schools.

Hartwell was about seven years-old when she and her younger brother happened upon the segregated Carnegie Branch library one afternoon on Frederick Street. Neither had visited a public library before. Located about seven city blocks from her home, the Carnegie Branch was the only library Hartwell recalls using—or even knowing about—as a child, and it remained her primary source for recreational reading and discovery for most of her childhood.

Hartwell also recalls attending several of Houston’s African-American churches, among them Friendship and Antioch Baptist churches, the latter located on present-day Clay Street, then just across from the Carnegie Branch library. She also remembers visiting the Rainbow Theatre (since demolished) on West Dallas Street and seeing Foley’s department store on Main Street.

Hartwell later earned an undergraduate degree in nursing from Prairie View A&M and a graduate degree in health education from the University of Houston. Now in her seventies, she still resides in Houston, having settled long ago in Sunnyside, a predominantly African American suburb of Houston that developed in the early twentieth century.

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This oral history is the property of the Roots of Community Project at the University of Southern Mississippi’s School of Library and Information Science. Except for the quotation of short excerpts, it may not be reproduced or published in any form without written permission from the Project Director. Please call (601) 266-4228 for more information.

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, grant #RE-31-16-0044-16. The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations in this transcript do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.