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Future is uncertain for Guthrie site that may have been the location of Oklahoma's first library for blacks

Some Guthrie residents want to restore a building on what is believed to be the site of the first library for blacks in Oklahoma. But an official for the city of Guthrie, which owns the building, said that likely would be too expensive.
By Steve Gust, For The Oklahoman Published: July 15, 2014
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— Demolition is one fate that could await a Guthrie building believed to be the site of the first African-American library in the state.

The 4,078-square-foot Excelsior Building at 323 S Second St. is now leased by the Guthrie Community Arts Committee.

The city owns the building, and City Manager Sereniah Breland said it will have to be auctioned, renovated or torn down. She said the building is worth probably $24,000, and to renovate it likely would cost $100,000.

“I just don’t think the council will want to do that,” she said.

Some Guthrie residents say the heritage of the site demands it be restored.

“Tearing it down would be a big mistake,” said Donna Hilton, who has taught reading in the building and thinks the site is very significant.

Evelyn Nephew, a proponent of saving the building, has produced a paper outlining the chronology of the Excelsior. She said the original Guthrie Carnegie library around the turn of the 20th century was “closed to people of color.”

By 1908, organizers had set their sights on a location, eventually called the Excelsior Library and Industrial Institute. It was built for $5,000. During the time of segregation, it was also near black schools. By the 1950s, the original two-story wood structure was torn down for a brick Excelsior building. By 1967, the Excelsior and Carnegie libraries consolidated and ended the “separate but equal” library system in Guthrie.

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