Obituary: Charles D. Churchwell, former dean of University Libraries, 91


Charles Darrett Churchwell, former dean of Washington University Libraries, died Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018, in St. Louis. He was 91.

Churchwell’s career was marked by a number of “firsts.” He was the first African-American man to earn a doctorate in library science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and as associate director of libraries at the University of Houston in the late 1960s, he was the first African-American to assume a professional position there. In 1974, he was among the American Library Association’s recommended candidates for librarian of Congress.

During his tenure at Washington University, from 1978 to 1987, Churchwell instituted a number of innovative initiatives, most notably the creation of an endowment to fund technological advances.

An early proponent of staff diversity, Churchwell hired graduates of St. Louis County’s Special School District as shelvers. He also broadened access to the libraries for the general public by establishing a “friends of the library” group.

Churchwell served in the U.S. Army for two years before earning a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Morehouse College in 1948. He went on to earn a master’s degree in library science from Atlanta University and then his doctorate.

Before joining Washington University, Churchwell served at several libraries, including Miami University of Ohio and Brown University.

After he resigned from his Washington University position, Churchwell served as dean of the School of Library and Information Studies at Clark Atlanta University; he retired in 1999.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Oct. 13 at Cote Brilliante Presbyterian Church, 4673 Labadie Ave. in St. Louis.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial contributions to the James E. McLeod Endowment Fund. Contributions may be sent to the fund care of Washington University in St. Louis, One Brookings Drive, Campus Box 1082, St. Louis, Mo., 63130.

Read the University Libraries’ obituary.

Leave a Comment

Comments and respectful dialogue are encouraged, but content will be moderated. Please, no personal attacks, obscenity or profanity, selling of commercial products, or endorsements of political candidates or positions. We reserve the right to remove any inappropriate comments. We also cannot address individual medical concerns or provide medical advice in this forum.