This collection consists of approximately fifteen linear feet of manuscripts and related materials providing important insights into the life and work of educator, librarian, and community leader Ethel Martin Bolden (1918-2002) in Columbia and throughout the greater South Carolina area.
Mrs. Bolden believed that sincere leadership could improve the human condition. In a 2001 interview, she said: "My motto is you need to know your heritage, where your ancestors came from, but you are part of a larger realm, part of a larger world. There’s not just African Americans in the world, there’s not just white people in the world. There are other nationalities and other ethnicities." While "she may not have participated directly in the dramatic activities associated with the Civil Rights Movement, Ethel Bolden is remembered for having "worked her way in to areas where decisions would be made about her race and community." (Georgette L. Mayo, ‘A Voice in the Wilderness’: Ethel Evangeline Martin Bolden, Pioneer Librarian, 2002, p. 40)
Born in Charleston, South Carolina, on 4 December 1918, Ethel Martin spent much of her early life in the segregated Columbia community known as Edgewood. It was while living there that she traveled across town to attend Booker T. Washington High School. Named for the famed Tuskegee educator, the high school had been established in 1916 and, as Mrs. Bolden recalled in 2001, "represented a tradition of educational aspirations and excellence in Columbia’s black community."
After finishing Booker T. Washington High School in 1936, Ethel entered Barber-Scotia Junior College in Concord, North Carolina. It was at this historically African-American college that she first gained experience working in a library. Graduating in 1938, she went on to Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she majored in English and social studies and earned a B.A. degree in 1940. She returned to Columbia and accepted employment as a teacher at Waverley Elementary School. A year later, Ethel Martin married Charles Frank Bolden. They were the parents of two sons, Charles F. Bolden, Jr., and Warren M. Bolden.
While Mrs. Bolden reared her family, she took periodic library courses at Allen University and Benedict College and other educational institutions. Finding a need to provide library service for children of color in Columbia, she initiated the first all African-American public school library in Columbia at Waverley Elementary School. She later went on to assist other librarians in establishing libraries in many of the capital city’s African-American public schools.
Her desire to build upon her knowledge in librarianship can be seen in material reflective of the "State A. & M. College School Library Workshop for Partially Trained Librarians" she attended in 1948. Names of those participating in the workshop are recorded as are their concerns for increasing their competency and improving service in their prospective libraries. Seeking to provide better library service to her patrons, Ethel Bolden believed that she would benefit from more formal training in the field of Library Science.
Bolden eventually left Waverley Elementary School and in 1953 entered Atlanta University. During this period of her life, she later recalled, "My husband kept the boys and I set out for Atlanta University from which I received the degree of Master of Science in Library Service." In 1959, she graduated and went to work as a librarian at the new W.A. Perry Junior High School in Columbia’s Edgewood neighborhood.
In 1968, Bolden left W.A. Perry Middle School and was appointed head librarian at Dreher High School, a traditionally all-white institu¬tion. A 1988 interview chronicles her departure from Perry, as a consequence of South Carolina’s attempt to desegregate public schools, and alludes to the fact that it was Bolden, along with guidance counselor Francena Robinson, a fellow African American, who first integrated the Dreher faculty.
The collection contains an assortment of committee notes, class reunion and commencement pamphlets, and newsletters from various African-American schools in Columbia and from other towns in South Carolina. Among these is the 1969 Narrative Evaluation Report of the Directory on the Institute for the Training of Elementary Librarians, documenting the strategies and programs used by Allen University to educate librarians. Bolden served on the staff of Allen’s "Institute for Elementary Librarians" that year, and included with the report is her lecture "Evaluation, Selection and Acquisition of Materials for the Elementary School Library."
Letters and newspaper clippings throughout the collection address the social, economic, and political factors that Mrs. Bolden believed affected African-American education. Aware of the many challenges that had arisen in the African-American community following desegregation, she understood the importance of preserving cultural institutions that were in danger of disappearing. In her 1988 interview she argued that many historically black schools "became either elementary schools, middle schools or…went out of existence all together" and, as a result, "we lost that part of our heritage."
Other portions of the collection focus on public schools and colleges at which Bolden studied, taught, or volunteered her time as guest lecturer. Files on Booker T. Washington High School include the names and addresses of the school’s Board of Directors, as well as minutes and financial statements, souvenir programs from celebration banquets, and specimen copies of the school’s newsletter, The Comet. Included too is information on the history of Edgewood, its cultural and physical geography, and families who lived there.
Ethel Bolden’s service activities extended from the schools and libraries to other institutions. Professional and civic organizations with which she served included the NAACP, National Council of Negro Women, Booker T. Washington Foundation, South Carolina State Museum Board of Directors, and Historic Columbia Foundation. Bolden was listed in Who’s Who Among Black Librarians in the Southeast, Who’s Who of American Women (4th edition), and Who’s Who in the South/Southwest (10th edition). She was the recipient of numerous awards, many of which reflect her lifelong service to the Columbia community, and her numerous community activities were recognized by such organizations as the Christian Action Council and the Board of Directors of the Columbia Young Women’s Christian Association. In 2002, she received the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest citizen award, in recognition of her pioneering service to libraries.
Bolden’s faith in God and Christian fellowship was a vital part of her life. When she came to live in the Edgewood neighborhood, she joined Ladson Presbyterian Church, Columbia’s oldest African-American church. Later, she was a founding member of Northminster Presbyte¬rian Church. Ultimately, she would speak to the congregations of many denominations in Columbia about faith, hope, and community uplift. Among her notes for these speeches, a majority of which deal with the uplift of African Americans, are remarks entitled "Where Do Our Dreams Go?" Her talk was delivered before Lebanon Presbyterian Church, another of Columbia’s historic African-American congregations, and asserted that the church "served as a place of peace, hope and spiritual nourishment, special activities and entertainment, education, the development of leadership and self expression."
Bolden also argued that African-American churches, generally, "have favored a passive acceptance of one’s worldly condition and have seen their main function in providing escape and consolation to the sufferers." She admonished the members of Lebanon to reach beyond mediocrity, to dream dreams, and to make the impossible into the possible dream.
References to the plight of the African-American community following desegregation are to be found throughout the collection. Materials directly related to the social issues in the Columbia community include two bound manuscripts labeled "Community Development Project Proposals," 1987 and 1989 respectively, both of which attempt to address issues of crime, education, drug abuse, and poverty. Bolden was a proponent of the family as a key element for improving society. In one of her untitled speeches, she wrote that "Black Women as well as Black men must work toward correcting the social ills that contribute to the high unemployment rate of Black men and the great number of Black men in prison or on drugs. We must be innovative to find creative ways to help young men of today be husbands of tomorrow."
While very much interested in the present, Ethel Bolden believed that understanding America’s past, especially the role of African Americans, was crucial to people of color because many of them suffered from inferiority complexes, humiliation, and cultural degradation resulting from a lack of knowledge of their past. She argued that African Americans had made important achievements in society but failed to recognize their own contributions. Bolden recognized that the majority culture sometimes contributed to the problems that afflicted the African-American community. Criticizing those who wanted to close or change the status of C.A. Johnson High School, she argued in the Columbia Record newspaper, 12 August 1985, that "there is a strange mentality present in a people who continue to think that anything black or in a black neighbor¬hood is inferior and must go." In one of her speeches, she noted that "to control a people you must first control what they think about themselves and how they regard their history and culture." In another, she critiqued America’s education system, noting that "A major merit of literature is that it broadens and deepens experience. Furthermore, a great literature is relevant to people and to society as they are, and American Literature surely is not relevant if it ignores over 10 percent of the Americans."
Bolden’s deep-rooted interest in history is apparent in the newspaper clippings she collected, many of which bear upon the contributions and attainments of African people in the United States as well as in Africa. She remained optimistic that this history and culture would eventually be integrated into books and other publications as well as into the school curriculum. Mrs. Bolden remained a spokesperson for the rights and responsibilities of all citizens until her death on 20 October 2002. Her collected papers bear testimony to the fact that the woman who once said "if love rules your life you cannot help but be involved" made her voice heard by working quietly yet persistently to bring about positive social change within her community.
Augmenting the collection is a unit of material associated with Ethel Bolden’s elder son, astronaut Charles Bolden, Jr. (b.1946). Bolden received a B.S. degree from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1968, accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps, trained as a pilot, and from 1972 to 1973 successfully flew more than 100 missions into North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. In 1978, he earned a M.S. degree from the University of Southern California. He was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1980, qualified as a space shuttle pilot in 1981, and subsequently flew four missions in space. In 1992 he was appointed Assistant Deputy Administrator for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. He held this post until assigned as com¬mander of the 1994 flight of space shuttle Discovery. Upon completion of this fourth mission, Bolden left the space program after having logged more than 680 hours in space. Items that are representative of the period when Bolden was actively involved in the space program are NASA pamphlets, photographs, and posters.