Black History Month Spotlight: Miriam Matthews, a Boundary-Breaking L.A. Librarian

Every weekday this month, we’re profiling fascinating figures from L.A.’s Black history

For a running list of all our 2021 Black History Month profiles, click here.

Born in Florida, Miriam Matthews (1905-2003) moved to Los Angeles with her family when she was just a toddler. After graduating from UC Berkeley, Matthews received her librarian’s certificate in 1927. Although racist officials attempted to keep her from taking the civil service exam, she passed, and was hired by the Los Angeles Public Library in 1927, making her the first certified Black librarian in California. In 1929, she began lobbying for a local Negro History Week, which L.A. implemented in 1931. Matthews also became an early chronicler of Black history in California, starting an important archival collection which exists to this day. After her retirement in 1960, Matthews became a major Black art collector and served on countless committees, including the California Heritage Preservation Commission.

“I greatly appreciate,” she once said, “having learned early in life to stand on my own two feet, to form my own opinions, to stick by my principles, and to speak up for what I thought was right.”

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