Honoring the life of a trailblazer: Vivian Hewitt, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s first Black librarian

MARIVIEN HEWITT LASCHON, a granddaughter of the late Vivian Hewitt, with Marivien’s 3-year-old daughter, Lulu. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

Who was the first Black librarian employed at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh?

Vivian Hewitt, of course.

The historic feat occurred in 1944, at the library’s Hill District branch, which, back then, was on Wylie Avenue. Hewitt then moved to the Homewood branch in 1947.

“She is a rock star in libraryland,” said Andrew Medlar, president and director of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, during an event honoring her life, Dec. 3, 2022, at the Homewood branch.

Hewitt died on May 29, 2022, at age 102. But the impact she made on youth, adults and the field of education will live on.

“She was an exceptional educator, teacher, library pioneer, and citizen for many decades, and it is an honor to celebrate her life, which embodies knowledge and education,” Medlar said. “We are honored that her legacy remains a part of our library’s enduring history.”

“Her passion, her perseverance, her dedication,” added Melvin Hubbard El with Mayor Ed Gainey’s office, “will live forever.”

The Aurora Reading Club of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh jointly presented the Dec. 3 event. Hewitt was a member of the Aurora Reading Club for 75 years.

“Vivian’s legacy as the first Black librarian in the Carnegie Library of system, seven decades later, is still making an impact,” said Nadine Banks, Aurora Reading Club president. “Her participation and contributions to Aurora throughout her 75-year membership expressed her true commitment to her interest in reading and the arts. Many members of Aurora, like Vivian, are making their mark in Pittsburgh. It’s important that we acknowledge and celebrate our contribution to Pittsburgh’s history.”

NADINE BANKS, PRESIDENT OF THE AURORA CLUB OF PITTSBURGH (PHOTOS BY J.L. MARTELLO)

Born in 1920 in New Castle, Hewitt graduated from Geneva College in 1943 and then attended Carnegie Library School at Carnegie Institute of Technology, now known as Carnegie Mellon University, earning her Bachelor of Science Degree in Library Science in 1944. Hewitt is recognized by both Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh as an alumna.

She left Pittsburgh in 1949 to work at Clark Atlanta University, in Atlanta. There she met her husband, John H. Hewitt, a professor at Morehouse College. Hewitt later served as librarian for The Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In 1978, Hewitt became the first Black president of the Special Libraries Association.

ROSLYNN WILSON, SHIRLEY GOLDEN, PAM GOLDEN, MARGARET BURLEY, NANCY WASHINGTON, KAREN PRICE

Hewitt received a number of awards during her career, according to a Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh press release. She was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Citation from the University of Pittsburgh-Carnegie Library School Alumni Association, Merit Award from Carnegie Mellon University, and the L.H.D. from Geneva College. She was recognized by the American Library Association, and in 1984 she was inducted into the organization’s Hall of Fame. In 2016, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain bestowed the title of Dame upon Hewitt for her work in the service of humanity. In 2017, Hewitt received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at Carnegie Mellon University’s 120th Commencement. Hewitt and her husband amassed a significant collection of art, and a large part of that collection, known as the John & Vivian Hewitt Collection of African American Art, is now permanently housed at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture in Charlotte.

FAMILY MEMBERS OF VIVIAN HEWITT CELEBRATED HER LIFE AT THE HOMEWOOD LIBRARY. From left: Arthur Easton, LeighAnn Hewitt Easton, Ada Easton, Clifford Laschon, and Marivien Hewitt Laschon. Being held is Lulu. (Photos by Courier photographer J.L. Martello)

At the event, the New Pittsburgh Courier spoke with Hewitt’s two granddaughters who were in attendance, LeighAnn Hewitt Easton and Marivien Hewitt Laschon.

“She loved books, she loved reading, and the Aurora Reading Club and the Homewood Library, and the City of Pittsburgh were really instrumental in her development as a young woman,” said LeighAnn Hewitt Easton. That helped “to instill some of the character that she needed going through her life.”

LEIGHANN HEWITT EASTON, VIVIAN HEWITT’S GRANDDAUGHTER

Marivien Hewitt Laschon said her grandmother “inspired me so much in my own pursuit of education and my work ethic.”

Marivien Hewitt Laschon lives in Moon Township. She’s originally from Maryland, but she said Vivian Hewitt would speak so highly of Pittsburgh, that it convinced Marivien Hewitt Laschon to look at some colleges in the area. She chose to attend LaRoche University, and she’s been in the area ever since.

“She called Pittsburgh home even though she lived in Manhattan (New York City) for decades,” Marivien Hewitt Laschon told the Courier. Vivian Hewitt also loved the arts and theater. “She would take us to every Broadway she when we were in Manhattan. She’d be 10 steps ahead of us. She was a very petite lady, but she could walk very fast,” Marivien Hewitt Laschon said.

And as for a fond memory of Vivian Hewitt for LeighAnn Hewitt Easton? “For every birthday, or special occasion, she and my grandfather would pick a book and then personally inscribe it and date it for us,” she said. “It’s one (a tradition) that I can actually pass down to my children. Not just the love of books or collecting books, but being part of a library, getting to know the librarian, being involved in the community, learning to love to read, and then wanting to ask questions and find the answers.”

CLARENCE CURRY AND AGNES CURRY

FROM MAYOR GAINEY’S OFFICE, MELVIN HUBBARD EL

 

 

Comments

From the Web