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Forbes, George W. (George Washington), 1864-1927


George W. Forbes was a journalist, civil rights advocate, librarian, and scholar who was for many years a prominent voice in two of Boston’s earliest Black newspapers -- the Courant and the Guardian. He was a member of the Massachusetts Racial Protective Association and played an ancillary role in the founding of the Niagara Movement, which was a forerunner of the NAACP. In 1896, he became the first Black librarian in the Boston Public Library system.

Forbes was born in 1864 in Shannon, Mississippi, to William and Sarah Forbes, both of whom had been emancipated from slavery the prior year. At the age of 14, he moved to Ohio, where he studied at Wilberforce University. In the mid-1880s, he moved to Boston, eventually working to support himself as a laborer at Harvard University before enrolling at Amherst College, from which he graduated in 1892. He edited the Boston Courant from 1892 through 1897. In 1901, Forbes co-founded the Guardian with William Monroe Trotter. He left the paper in 1903, but continued to write, publishing articles and reviews in The Crisis, the Springfield Republican, the A.M.E Church Review, and the Boston Transcript, while also working to compile biographies of eminent Black historical figures, which he planned to publish in a book. He married Elizabeth Harley, of Kingston, New York, in November, 1900.

In 1896, while he was still editing the Courant, Forbes was hired into the first cohort of librarians to staff the Boston Public Library’s newly-opened West End branch. He would go on to work at the branch for more than 30 years. Over the course of his career at the BPL, Forbes garnered a reputation for mentorship to generations of young readers in the Black, Jewish, and European immigrant communities of the city’s old West End. After his death in 1927, Forbes was eulogized in both the local and national press, including in the Jewish Daily Forward, where he was remembered for the years of service he had rendered, through his librarianship, to Boston’s Jewish community.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

George W. Forbes Papers

Call Number: MS Am.282
Scope and Contents This collection consists of correspondence sent to George W. Forbes, as well as typescript drafts of 18 biographies of eminent Black historical figures that Forbes wrote. Also inlcuded are several letters addressed to Elizabeth H. Forbes in the years following her husband's death, and several issues of The Voice and The Crisis. The correspondence in the collection reflects Forbes’ work as a writer and scholar, particularly with...
Dates: 1900-1936