New Little Free Library Dedicated To Black Literature Comes To Downtown Charleston

Sankofa Free Library logo (Credit: Dogon Krigga)

Chronicle Staff Reports

Lowcountry natives Janette Dunn and Damion Smalls are providing the area with a resource that spotlights Black culture with the Sankofa Free Library. As part of the educational initiative Little Free Library, Sankofa aspires to increase access to books and support literacy in the African-American community through the “take a book, share a book” approach.

“Sankofa” is an African word that symbolizes the importance of learning from the past to better prepare for the future. It is represented as an image of bird with an egg in its mouth and feet facing forward, but the head is turned backwards. Broken down, in the Twi language of Ghana, “san” means return, “ko” means go, and “fa” means seek.

The library will consist of an upcycled newspaper machine that will be located at 1111 King Street, just outside the Charleston Chronicle office. Patrons will be able to contribute to the library by adding Black literature to the machine once they select a title.

Celebrating ten years in 2019, there are now over 80,000 Little Free Libraries worldwide (91 countries). According to the nonprofit organization, the free libraries “function as educational and outreach tools for civic engagement, social, and environmental issues” and “serve as unique channels through which publishers and authors can distribute their books.”

Titles to look out for in the Sankofa Free Library are James Baldwin’s “Another Country,” “The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley,” “March” by Andrew Aydin and John Lewis, “Barracoon” by Zora Neale Hurston, “Dave the Potter” by Laban Carrick Hill, “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Freedom is a Constant Struggle” by Angela Davis, and “A Gullah Guide to Charleston” by Alphonso Brown.

Sankofa’s catalog will offer a wide variety of genres in its efforts to supply the community with an immersive literary experience. Contemporary fiction & nonfiction, biographies, Black history, romance, sports, young adult, poetry, classics, science fiction, children’s books and more will be featured and rotated inside the library.

Sample of books in the Sankofa Free Library

Dunn and Smalls see Sankofa as a creative way to give back to the community. “We are both book lovers, so over the years we have compared our collections and borrowed from each other,” Smalls says. Janette came up with the idea of opening our own free library. We wanted to use what we already had, plus more, to give people of all ages another venue to pick up something to read that reflects Black culture by telling our stories.”

Anyone interested in donating books to the Sankofa Free Library can drop them off at the Charleston Chronicle office from 11 AM to 4 PM Monday-Friday or mail books to the office at 1111 King Street, Charleston, SC, 29403. All genres featuring Black culture will be considered. For more information, contact sankofafreelibrary@gmail.com. Follow the library on Instagram (@sankofalibrary).

Sankofa’s logo was designed by South Carolina-based afrofuturistic visual artist Dogon Krigga. The library’s owners would like to thank the following for donating books ahead of its opening: Princeton University Press, Haymarket Books, Black Classic Press, Charleston County Public Library – Main Branch, Penguin Young Readers, Akashic Books, Enough Pie, Beacon Press, Charlebridge Publishing, Jim French and several local citizens.

A ribbon-cutting event for Sankofa will held at its Upper King Street location Saturday, March 16 at noon.

3 Comments

  1. Chrissy Bayoubliss on February 27, 2019 at 1:18 pm

    This is a great addition to Charleston! Please support the arts for this great initiative!! Congrats Janette and Damion—job well done!!

  2. Wendy Marshall on February 27, 2019 at 9:50 pm

    Congratulatiins Janette & Damion. What a wonderful contribution to our culture & community! I have no doubt that all of Charleston will benefit from the Sankofa Free Library. I hope the African-American community will take advantage of this literary gift and generously support it.

  3. William Hamilton III on March 4, 2019 at 11:09 am

    Great report. I know people will enjoy it. Good location too.

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