The City of Pensacola has been awarded a $500,000 African American Cultural and Historical grant from the State of Florida for the Alice S. Williams Library Restoration Project, which will help the city repair and restore the historic building while preserving as many of its historical elements as possible.
Located at 1015 N. E St. in Pensacola, the building’s history dates back to August 1952 when it first opened as the Alice S. Williams Public Library, the first library serving African-American citizens in Pensacola.
Named after an esteemed local high school teacher committed to the education of Pensacola’s African American youth, the Alice S. Williams Public Library provided access to a wealth of knowledge and experience to a segregated, underserved population. In 1976, years after segregation was declared unconstitutional, Alice Williams closed its doors as a public library branch with services transferred to the Downtown Pensacola Public Library branch. The building has fallen into disrepair after shuttering over 6 years ago after its last use as a daycare ended.
A true pioneer, Alice Strudivant Williams (1880-1941) received her degree for teaching in the 1920s, and is credited for starting the first night school for African Americans at her home to support working families. After a long career teaching at various institutions of learning, she was named assistant principal of Washington High School in 1940.
The Alice S. Williams Public Library was a grassroots effort built primarily on donations and volunteer labor, with efforts beginning in October 1945 by the Negro Parent Teacher Association at Washington High School, the designated African-American High School during this time of segregation. The Negro Parent Teacher Association launched a fundraising drive for a “Negro library,” with the grassroots effort culminating in a groundbreaking in August 1949 and grand opening in August 1952. The City of Pensacola agreed to fund operations and maintenance of the library at that time.
City of Pensacola staff submitted an AACH grant application to the Department of State in November 2021 for the restoration funding, finalizing the grant agreement in September 2022 after being notified of the grant award in June 2022.
The city intends to convert this historic building into a gathering place, an event space, and a resource center with historical markers and displays. The restoration of the Alice S. Williams Public Library will commemorate the building’s history and educate current and future generations about its story of perseverance during an era when African Americans were forced to create their own opportunities to further educate themselves in hopes of achieving the American dream.
Approval of the grant agreement is on the agenda for the Monday, Oct. 10 City Council Agenda Conference and will be voted on at the Thursday, Oct. 13 City Council Meeting.