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The History of Orange County Library System: Eddie T. Jackson and the Booker T. Washington Library

The History of Orange County Library System: Eddie T. Jackson and the Booker T. Washington Library

The Albertson Public Library opened its doors in November 1923, but until the mid-1960s, those doors were closed to members of the Black community because of segregation. In her first Librarian’s Report, Olive Brumbaugh noted that Black residents “were entitled to library privileges yet could not use the Albertson [Public Library], so the Booker T. Washington Branch was installed on June 11, 1924.” The branch opened in the former rectory of St. John’s Episcopal Church to serve the residents of the West Orlando community. It was the second public library location to open in the city of Orlando and included two reading rooms, one reference room and a collection of more than 1,200 volumes. During the first six weeks of operation, 300 people registered for library cards and began to borrow books.

Eddie T. Jackson was appointed to serve as Head Librarian of the Booker T. Washington Branch in 1924, becoming the first Black librarian in Orlando. Born Eddie Natalie Byrd Thomas in 1902, she came to Orlando following the death of her mother in 1914. She graduated from Johnson Academy (now Jones High School) in 1918 and later became the first Black woman from Orlando to earn a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia. She had the distinction of serving as an Orange County public school teacher for 34 years, as well as being a member of the NAACP and The National Council of Negro Women.

Jackson lived during a time when much of Orlando, including the public libraries, was segregated. In her position both as Head Librarian and educator, she sought to inspire students not to allow other people’s perspectives on the color of their skin to dictate their outlook on life. Each month, as the librarian of the Booker T. Washington Branch, Jackson prepared a handwritten monthly report in narrative form. Her hopes and dreams for the people she served and for her library are evident in her writings. In her report for March 1927, Jackson writes, “The Booker T. Washington Branch Library is doing exceptionally well. Our enrollment has reached nine hundred seventy. There seems to be a growing interest among the adults as well as the children.”

Throughout her career, Jackson worked to foster children’s growth and passion for literature and motivate them to become self-sustaining adults. In 1927, she wrote a letter in the Orlando Sentinel, exhorting the community to visit the branch, especially parents, so that her staff could help select books for them. “The librarian wishes to remind the public of the fact that the library is a public institution, and the life of it depends upon the people who are interested in reading … It is the duty, as well as a pleasure for us to assist in making a choice, because we realize that a taste for that which is good must be fostered in youth, or it will seldom be possessed in old age.” The Booker T. Washington library saw continued growth over the years, opening substations in local schools and serving as a venue for social and literary events. By 1950, the library was open six days a week instead of three and thousands of residents had signed up for a library card. In April 1984, after moving locations several times since its founding, the Booker T. Washington Library merged with the Washington Shores Library moved into the Lila Mitchell Community Center on Raleigh Street. The new facility was named the Washington Park Library and has been serving the community for more than three decades.

For 22 years, Eddie T. Jackson welcomed people to the Booker T. Washington library and provided exemplary service to the residents of West Orlando until her retirement in 1946. She passed away on October 26, 1979. Among her possessions, a note was found which read: “My Life – What beautiful surroundings were chosen for me to enjoy, while on earth … I’ve done my work – I’ve sung my song, may I rest in peace.” In recognition of her accomplishments and contributions to the library, a portrait of Eddie Jackson was commissioned and can now be viewed on the fourth floor of Orlando Public Library. Later this month, Jackson will be honored at Luminary Green, the new 2.3-acre park on the north side of Parramore. As part of the inaugural class of 12 luminaries, this memorial will shine a light on her remarkable legacy and lifelong commitment to public service.