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Douglass-Truth Library

Theme: Spirituality & Community

Commanding a presence at the corner of 23rd Avenue and East Yesler Way is the Seattle Public Library Douglass-Truth Branch. The historic landmark was designed in the Italian Renaissance style by architects W. M. Somervell and Harlan Thomas. The building is unique among Seattle libraries because it was built totally by city funds during the time of the Carnegie Foundation’s construction of libraries across Seattle.

From 1915 until 1975, the library was named for Henry Yesler, who was regarded as a city founder and the wealthiest resident during his lifetime. Yesler is also known for selling 12 acres in today’s Madison Valley neighborhood to William Grose, an early Black settler and successful entrepreneur. Grose built a home on the property that is celebrated as the forging of the Central Area, making way for the beginning of the historic African American community.

The library served a changing ethnic community over the years from when it stocked its shelves with Yiddish literature to later adding books in response to the growing Japanese population. With World War II looming and the tragic forced relocation of Japanese Americans to internment camps, African Americans were relocating to Seattle with the promise of wartime jobs and bright futures.

Through years of ups and downs with usership, library administrators once again sought to serve the literary needs of the growing Central Area community. In 1965, James Welch was appointed branch librarian. He joined the neighborhood community council and built a partnership with local Black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha. Community leaders organized the Black Friends of the Yesler Library. The Friends were instrumental in acquiring collections of African American literature to expand the collection to a major regional resource with holdings of over 6,000 volumes.

In 1972, the 21-foot Soul Pole depicting 400 years of African American history was carved at the Rotary Boys’ Club and installed on the library’s west lawn. By 1975, a campaign was initiated to change the branch name to reflect the changing population.  Nominations were submitted, and equal votes were cast for Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass. On December 5, 1975, the library’s new name was adopted and changed by proclamation of Mayor Wes Uhlman.

A symbol of culture and identity, the branch is among Seattle’s most utilized libraries.

William Grose (1835-1898)

William Grose came to Seattle in 1860 with his wife Sara. He was the second urban Black settler to arrive at a time when the entire population of the city was 300 people. Grose opened a successful restaurant and three-story hotel near the waterfront in the Pioneer Square District of Seattle. In 1882, he purchased undeveloped land along East Madison Street from c. When his hotel burned in the 1889 Great Seattle Fire, he built a home on the property where he lived until his death in 1898. Grose was a well-respected man and Seattle’s wealthiest Black resident. He helped to form the first Grand Lodge of Masons and was a trustee of Seattle’s first Black church, First African Methodist Episcopal Church (see the FAME cultural waypoint on this tour), founded in 1891. Today, there is a city park named for William Grose at 1814 30th Avenue in Seattle.


The Seattle Public Library Douglass-Truth Branch.

Courtesy of Converge Media LLC.

The Seattle Public Library Douglass-Truth Branch.

Photo courtesy of Converge Media LLC.

The Seattle Public Library Douglass-Truth Branch and Soul Pole.

Courtesy of Converge Media LLC.

Yesler Branch Library in 1916.

Photo courtesy of the Museum of History & Industry.

A portrait of William Grose by artist Des Hansen, painted on a signal box across the street from the library.

Photo courtesy of Des Hansen.