Reconstruction Period Research Forum
BOLDEN, Ruth - pioneer
Library founder, civil rights worker dies three days before 94th birthday
By Johnny Kampis
TUSCALOOSA | Readers are leaders.
That was the motto of Ruth Bolden, who helped found a library in West Tuscaloosa and worked for the civil rights movement.
She died Wednesday morning at Estes Health Care Park Manor nursing home in Northport. She would have turned 94 today.
“She taught kids the real value of life," said Joe Mallisham, the county’s first black county commissioner. “I think she left a great impression on this community."
Bolden, a native of Bibb County, worked menial jobs to pay for her education at Stillman College. She later attended Atlanta University and got a master’s degree in library sciences.
In 1948, she was able to get county money to start a library in the local community center in West Tuscaloosa. Many in the community donated books to help with the library, which was named after Dr. George Weaver, a prominent black citizen who allowed local young people to use his private library.
The library was later forced to move out of the building, and Bolden approached the city for a new space. Leaders were hesitant, but Bolden was persistent. She was able to secure $29,000 in 1961 to build a new library.
In 1991, this branch of the Tuscaloosa Public Library was renamed the Weaver-Bolden branch in her honor.
Verdelle Taylor, Bolden’s niece, said she stressed education and even taught elementary school for a time.
“She said you could become anything you wanted to be, you just had to read," Taylor said.
Bolden was also an avid follower of T.Y. Rogers, who was a leader in the local civil rights movement. She was a member of the Tuscaloosa Citizens Action Committee and helped register blacks to vote.
Bolden was among those who were in First African Baptist Church planning a civil rights march when it was tear gassed by local authorities on June 9, 1964, a day known by many as “Black Tuesday."
“She worked more or less behind the scenes, but she did a very good job," Mallisham said.
Bolden and Mallisham worked together again, with both serving on a committee that looked at patient treatment at Bryce Hospital in 1972.
Cordell Wynn, president of Stillman College from 1982-97, said Bolden welcomed his family to Tuscaloosa with open arms. She was an alumnae who wanted to do all she could to help her alma mater.
“From the day my wife and I arrived she was there with some cookies and a big, warm hug," Wynn said. “If we had more people in the world like Miss Ruth, we would have a better world to live in."
Services for Bolden will be at First African Baptist Church at 11:30 a.m. Monday, with interment to follow at Cedar Oak Memorial Park. Visitation at Druid Funeral Service will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Reach Johnny Kampis at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 722-0206.