On March 4, 1853, two grand inaugurations occurred. In blizzard-bound Washington, President Franklin Pierce asked twenty thousand listeners to respect “the rights of the South” and obey the laws of the Compromise of 1850 “cheerfully.” In Philadelphia, Charles Reason inaugurated the Library and Reading Room of the Institute for Colored Youth.
The library began with 13,000 volumes, from Rural Chemistry and Civil Engineering to biographies of Julius Caesar, Marie Antoinette, Hannibal, Isaac Newton, William Penn, Cortez and Patrick Henry. Also, lives of religious greats: Martin Luther, Mohammed, the Quaker George Fox; histories of Egypt, Rome, Macedonia, Persia, New York City and — notwithstanding Noah Webster’s views — Africa.
“Education ought to be and must be a family ambition, an inbred pride, a universal emulation,” Reason told his audience that night. “It must become a habit.”
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