Black History Fun Fact Friday – Dr. George Cleveland Hall

This week, I spoke briefly on Dr. George Cleveland Hall, for whom the Hall Public Library in Chicago is named. I talked about the Hall Branch as the place I got my first library card and all the historical things I didn’t know that happened there. To read this post, click here.

Today, we are digging a little deeper into this man’s background, Dr. George Cleveland Hall.

As I dug into his story, I found Hall was a pretty big deal, and I am surprised there isn’t more information on him because this man was phenomenal and a significant influence on Chicago.

Dr. George Cleveland Hall was born on February 22, 1864. Not only was Cleveland a doctor, but he was also head of the Urban League and “one of the five founding members and the first president of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), currently known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).” (William Smither)

In 1886, Hall graduated from Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University and studied medicine at Bennett Medical College and in 1896 graduated from Harvey Medical College.

Cleveland was a surgeon at Provident Hospital, the first private hospital in the state of Illinois to provide internship opportunities for black physicians, the first to establish a school of nursing to train black women, one of the first black hospitals to offer postgraduate courses and residences for black physicians, and the first black hospital approved by the American College of Surgeons for full graduate training in surgery.

Okay, Chicago!

George Cleveland Hall
Public domain image

In 1911 Cleveland founded the Cook County Physicians’ Association of Chicago, the organization of black doctors in the city.

But Dr. Hall’s significant influence on Chicago was not just about his expertise in the medical field. He is actually most known for his civic duty and grassroots work. In 1915, he joined Carter G. Woodson and others in the founding of the ASALH at the Wabash YMCA in historical Bronzeville.

Just wow.

I cannot believe I have not heard of Dr. Hall before. His contribution to black history and medicine is groundbreaking. He is right up there with Carter G. Woodson and then some. Hall also had a close relationship with Booker T. Washington.

Cleveland received two honorary degrees, one from Lincoln University for Doctors of Laws and another from Howard for Doctor of Science. He became the first black Chicagoan appointed to the board of directors for the Chicago Public Library.

Dr. George Cleveland Hall died at sixty-six in 1930.

On January 18, 1932, Chicago city officials dedicated the George Cleveland Hall Library to Dr. Hall, the first full-service library on the city’s Southside.

This is the same library where I received my first library card.

Yass.

For More Black History Fun Facts, click here.

No One is You And That is Your Power

Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks at Hall Branch Library, Chicago, IL, 1949. Credit: George Cleveland Hall Branch Archives, photo 146, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection.

I still go to libraries.

I got my first library card at the Hall Branch Library on 48th in Michigan on Chicago’s south side. I was thirteen years old and still needed my mother’s signature. I wasn’t into Black History back then. I chose this library because I wanted to check out books, and it was down the street from my grandmother’s house.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Dr. George Cleveland Hall

Yesterday, I discovered Hall Branch was named for the renowned African American surgeon, social activist, and civic leader Dr. George Cleveland Hall (1864-1930). It was the first Chicago Public Library location with a Black branch manager, Vivian G. Harsh, who served as its first manager. We will get deeper into Hall’s background on this Friday’s Black History Fun Fact, the last one of the year.

In 1949, Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks visited the Hall Branch to celebrate the publication of The Poetry of the Negro Anthology.

On July 7, 2000, the Friends of Libraries USA (now United for Libraries) and Illinois Center for the Books designated Hall Branch as a literary landmark. This was in recognition of its promotion of African American literary culture by serving as a meeting place for such writers as Arna Bontemps, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, and Richard Wright. (Learn more about the Chicago Renaissance of the Black Belt Here).

I thought I had picked this library at random and for no particular reason. I had no idea it was so rich with Black History or that it was this hub for Black writers.

This helped me to see how unique each of our journeys are. No one has walked in your shoes or experienced what you’ve experienced. No one is you, and that is your power.

Everything is a stepping stone to get us to the place Yah has destined for us, every path like a thread weaving and connecting everything together.

It would be years before I learned who Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks were, and many more years before I would publish a collection of poetry of my own.

Little did I know I was building on the same foundation as those who came before me.

Talk about the power of purpose!

Also, I still got that library card!


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