James C. Welbourne, 1942-2011
James Clifton Welbourne, son of James C. and Mabel Welbourne, was born August 10, 1942 in Baltimore, Maryland, and died in New Haven, Connecticut on August 22, 2011. From July 2000 until October 2010, Jim served as the City Librarian for New Haven, Connecticut. Before coming to New Haven, he was the Deputy Director of The Enoch Pratt Free Library ((1993-2000) in Baltimore, Maryland (where he worked as a book page while in high school), and the Assistant Director of the Carnegie Library (1986-1993) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The crowning achievement of Jim’s career in public library service was the conception and realization of the Courtland Seymour Wilson Library branch of the New Haven Public Library system that opened in the Hill District in October 2006. But Jim’s true legacy lies in the profound effect he had on the countless men and women he mentored and taught throughout his career, many of whom went on to lead major library systems and teach in the library education field. The lives they in turn have touched have produced a ripple effect that ensures the legacy of Jim Welbourne will continue in perpetuity.
Throughout his life Jim lived as if the cultural and historical mores of the times simply did not exist, and as a result he had an almost magical effect on everyone with whom he came in contact. While never outwardly (or inwardly) defiant, he simply went about implementing his extraordinary dreams and ideas in the most remarkable (and sometimes incomprehensible) way. Possessing an intellectual prowess he displayed at a young age enabled him to attend a public high school in Baltimore that, although originally “all-white,” had been forced to open its advanced college preparatory curriculum to African American students in 1952-two years before the enactment of federal laws requiring integration.
Following his graduation, the practice of segregation in the state university system precluded his attending the University of Maryland at College Park, his school of choice, at which point he simply bided his time working until those laws were changed. When he did finally enter college in the early 1960’s, he was already in his early 20’s; yet he responded to being the oldest freshman by several years in his dorm as being nothing unusual (which at that time it most definitely was). Jim continued to live his life as if any racial and cultural differences between him and others simply did not exist. As a result, he was accepted and embraced by people who might have responded differently were it not for Jim’s grace, confidence, and infectious exuberance.
For those who would like to honor Jim
by making a charitable contribution in his name, two local organizations of great importance to him and in which he took tremendous pride are New Haven Reads at 45 Bristol Street, New Haven, CT 06511, 203-752-1923; and LEAP at 31 Jefferson Street, New Haven, CT 06511, 203-773-0770.