Reading for Justice: Stanford L. Warren Library

Durham County Library - Stanford L. Warren Branch Library
1201 Fayetteville Street, Durham, NC 27707

African American leaders in Durham understood the power of the word. They knew their community needed a safe haven where they could gather to read, learn, and discuss ideas. Thus was born the Durham Colored Library, later renamed as the Stanford L. Warren Library. 

Dr. Aaron McDuffie Moore, who was born free to land-owning parents and became Durham’s first African American physician, was struck by the “lack of good, wholesome reading matter” available to Durham’s African American community. In 1913, he formed a library by donating a collection of 799 books to White Rock Baptist Church, where he oversaw the Sunday school. In 1916 and with the help of his friend and business associate John Merrick, Dr. Moore established the Durham Public Library on the corner of Fayetteville and Pettigrew streets. The library operated on community funding for an entire year before receiving financial support from the City of Durham in 1917, as well as an additional appropriation from Durham County in 1918.

In 1940, a newly built Durham Colored Library, opened on the corner of Umstead and Fayetteville streets. This building was chiefly funded by a loan from the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company and supplemented by generous individual contributions, such as the $4,000 that long-time board president Dr. Stanford Leigh Warren donated to buy the land for the library’s new location. One of the goals of this library was to expand access to books and educational resources for all African American residents of Durham County. In 1914, the library equipped a bookmobile that sometimes traveled 600 miles each month to ensure that Blacks living in rural areas also gained this access. 

Although the Durham County Library system has since desegregated, the Stanford L. Warren branch has remained in the same location since 1940. To this day, the original 799 volumes that Dr. Moore donated remain a significant piece of the library’s history and are currently designated to a special, non-circulating book collection in the library.