Fact Friday 347 - Lydia Schenck, Charlotte's First Black Librarian

Fact Friday 347 - Lydia Schenck, Charlotte's First Black Librarian

Happy Friday!

Lydia Schenck was born a slave to Dennis and Amy Lindsay, on one of the Lindsay Plantations in York County, South Carolina just before the Civil War. She was the younger sister of Paulina Lindsay Schenck, a slave who was purchased for $1500 in gold by her husband, John Thomas Schenck of Cleveland County, NC.

John was a Mulatto, whose father was Henry Schenck, a White merchant and plantation owner, and his mother was Jane, a slave on the plantation. John himself was taught to read and write, and this exposure to the importance of an education was something that would impact Lydia. There is a small paper trail that gives an idea of Lydia's life. When the war ended, her parents were either too old to care for her as Freedmen or they were dead. She came to live in Charlotte with her sister Paulina and husband John. In 1867, she suffered an attack of small pox and was treated at the Freedmen's hospital in Charlotte.

John was avid about education for the Freedmen as he supported it in the Colored Convention of 1866 in Raleigh. Lydia received her education in Charlotte, and rose to become a teacher herself and then the librarian of the Colored People Library (aka the Brevard Street Library for Negros) in Charlotte. She never married, and lived with her sister until the last few months of her life. She received mention on June 29, 1913 as the librarian for the Charlotte public library for Colored People which had opened in 1906.  The building and lot had cost $5,000. (The Charlotte Daily Observer)

Lydia was noted for her charity work. On December 8, 1915, she lead an appeal for orphaned Black children in Charlotte to have their own Sunday School and a special Christmas dinner. (The Charlotte Daily Observer) On February 6, 1917. Lydia attended a meeting devoted to Negro Mission Work in Charlotte. (The Charlotte Observer).  Lydia lived on 1024 South Mint Street with her sister Paulina until the last few months of her life. Lydia suffered from Bright's Disease the last three months of her life, and was cared for at 910 South Mint Street by a niece.

Lydia died on October 7, 1924, and was buried in the Piedmont Cemetery in Charlotte two days later. Although her niece filled out the death certificate, she had Lydia's age incorrectly written at 58. There was no obituary in the Charlotte newspapers to celebrate Lydia's life, nor would there be one for William Schenck in 1924, another adopted relative that John and Paulina had raised. The family of John, Paulina, Lydia, and William are all buried in the Piedmont Cemetery. Only John in 1894 as a revered Republican Party leader of his race in Charlotte and Paulina who lived to celebrate her 100th birthday in 1933 received acclaim in newspaper obituaries. Lydia had benefited from their care and had made her contributions to the community in Charlotte. 

Jeffrey Begeal
Chairperson for Social Studies
AP/IB History Teacher
Harding University High School
Charlotte, NC 28208


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“History is not the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.” - James Baldwin

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