Title image: "Mildred L. Terry"

Mildred L. Terry Branch Library Historical Marker Sign, reads: Non Sibi Sed Alis - Georgia Historical Society; Mildred L. Terry Branch Library: The first public library for African Americans in segregated Columbus, the Colored/Fourth Avenue Library, opened on January 5, 1953. The existence of this facility resulted from covenants and restrictions barring the use of the city's new public library by African Americans. The project wa completed with expenditures of less than one hundred thousand dollars. The library was renamed the Mildred L. Terry Branch Library in 1981 in honor of it's first librarian. Erected by the Georgia Historical Society, Kendrick High School Young Historians, Muscogee County Friends of Libraries, Chattahoochee Valley Regional Library System, and Historic Columbus Foundation.

Mildred Lane Rivers Terry, was born in Nashville, Tennessee, and graduated with a B. S. in Elementary Education from Tennessee University. After graduating, she began working in Columbus, Georgia, in 1941 as the first trained librarian at Spencer High School. She also received a B. S. in Library Science in 1949 from Atlanta University.

In 1953, Mildred L. Terry was hired as the first librarian of the newly opened Fourth Avenue Library, where she served until her retirement in December 1980 [1]. In the first month of its opening, more than 1,000 African Americans applied for library cards and borrowed more than 3,500 books.

In 1981, the library was renamed The Mildred L. Terry Public Library to honor its first librarian.

Mrs. Helene Watson became Mildred L. Terry’s second librarian in 1981 after Mrs. Terry retired. In a 2002 interview, she recalls her time at the library and the “tremendous impact” Mrs. Terry left on the community. Members of the community continued to remember her, the way she helped them, and the programs they hoped would continue. In addition, Mrs. Terry and her husband would often visit the library to ensure her values were still being upheld. As both a “nest” and a “resource” for the community, Mrs. Helene Watson continued to uphold the values of Mrs. Terry and made sure every person felt welcome. As an example for staff, she would stop working when approached and make the person standing in front of her the top priority [6]

Mrs. Terry believes that books are the tools to communicate ideas and that these tools must be handled with care and pride since ideas and concepts are precious to all mankind. She also believes that reading is for not only a privileged few, but for all people. Her contributions to Columbus and the children of Muscogee County are not for just today but will grow and prosper throughout the years and effects will be seen in generations to come.
 -From original renaming ceremony- Wednesday, January 28, 1981 at 3:00 p.m  [1]

The Fourth Avenue Public Library opened on January 5th, 1953. It was the first public library for the Black population of Columbus, who were previously denied access to public libraries in Columbus because of the color of their skin. However, customers grew frustrated with the injustice of separate but unequal library use. In July 1963, the Bradley Library was the "scene of several demonstrations by Negro teenagers" who appeared in groups from 5 to 35 people on the following dates: July 5th, 9th, 15th, 16th, and 17th. 

At one point, several were arrested "when they attempted to block use of the main desk" [4]. During one instance, several black children occupied two tables in the reading room of the Bradley Memorial Library for an hour. They left and came back, asking to apply for library cards and check out books, at which point they were barred from entering [3]. To combat these demonstrations, the Bradley Memorial Library closed on July 17th and reopened on the 23rd; during part of this time, the Fourth Avenue and Baker Village Libraries were closed as well [4]. Eventually, the youths and Library Director John Banister would decide that they be allowed to meet with the Board of Education to discuss using the whites-only library [3]. Following these events, the Board of Education formed a Special Committee on Desegregation and desegregated the public libraries on September 1st, 1963 [5].

In the picture to the above, Members of the Gamma Tau Omega chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority of Columbus, Georgia gather for a meeting at Mildred L. Terry Public Library. Seated in the picture from left to right: Ernestine Mack, Alice Folks, Anna Mims, Veronice Hall, Malinda Huff. Standing from left to right: Thelma Haskins, Ella Farley, Malvenia Gentry.

As soror of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Mildred L. Terry is remembered as a trailblazer in the Columbus community and someone who “encouraged all children to rise and… move in positive directions." - Gamma Tau Omega, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. Letter of Support for Mildred L. Terry for the Georgia Woman of Achievement Award [2].

Mildred L. Terry was a life member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (AKA). Her experience as a soror impacted her work at the library, where the AKA commitment to serve all mankind influenced the services she provided to all library patrons. There are a variety of documents from AKA that support Mildred L. Terry, and presently, there is a meeting room at the library named in honor of the sorority [2]

"She was a soft spoken person, very, very nice, always willing to help. Very knowledgeable as well."  - Deborah Clark, speaking on Mildred L. Terry as the branch manager when Deborah was a child

On the right is an oral history interview where interviewee Deborah Clark (left side in the picture) talks about her experiences with the Mildred L. Terry Public Library (MLT) at various stages throughout her life. Deborah used the 4th Avenue Library as a child when Mildred L. Terry served as its librarian and was later employed by the same library where she continues to impact the local community. 

Deborah Clark says, “You never know whose life you’re touching.” Silvia Bunn (right side in the picture) elaborates, saying, “That has been one of the hallmarks of this library: service. Everybody feeling at home. Everybody that comes in, we treat them with respect.” Silvia Bunn ends the interview by describing the essential parts of her role as manager, one of which is “really trying to ensure that people see this as a full-service branch of the library, honoring the history, which has to be preserved and told.”

"That has been one of the hallmarks of this library: service. Everyone feeling at home....we treat everyone the same." - Silvia Bunn, Branch Manager of Mildred L. Terry Public Library

Mildred L. Terry Public Library In the Present Day

“Welcome to your library” is commonplace when you walk into Mildred L. Terry Public Library. However, a simple sentence makes a significant impact, reminding staff and customers alike that the library is for the community, first and foremost. To staff, welcoming customers to “their” library may be second-nature. Still, to individuals coming in to use the library’s resources, it provides a moment of pause to remember that this institution is genuinely for the customer. With one sentence, the current branch manager, Ms. Silvia Bunn, creates a community culture, keeping Mildred L. Terry’s dream for the library alive. 

We are working on properly acknowledging the work and impact of the community leaders in the pictures featured on this page. If you have information about the the people or the events please contact us at genealogy@cvlga.org so we can help properly document their impact.