Contact: Tom Cook 406-444-1645 Release: Receipt
GREAT FALLS CIVIC LEADER AND AUTHOR JAMES WELCH TO BE HONORED AT CAPITOL
Great Falls librarian and civic leader Alma Jacobs and Blackfeet novelist and poet James Welch will be inducted into the Gallery of Outstanding Montanans in a public ceremony Thursday (March 9) at 1:00 p.m. in the Capitol Rotunda.
Every legislative session two Montanans who had great success in their individual careers are installed in the gallery. The Montana Historical Society administers the program for the Legislature.
Alma Smith was born in 1916 in Lewistown but grew up in Great Falls. She was the first black woman to serve as head librarian of the Great Falls Public Library and later as State Librarian first in 1973.
She earned scholarships to Talladega College in Alabama and went on to study library science at Columbia University in New York. She began work at the Great Falls Library in 1946 and became head librarian there eight years later.
She worked tirelessly to expand the library’s presence into rural communities in the area. She spearheaded bonds to construct what was called the first modern library in Montana and it was loving called “the house that Alma built.”
“The library is the poor man’s university,” she would often say. Although she worked to advance civil rights as president of the Montana Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs and as a member of the Montana Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and other endeavors, she was proudest of her profession.
“I resent being thought of as a Negro librarian. I would rather concentrate on being a good librarian,” she said.
She died in 1997 and in 2009 Great Falls dedicated the Alma Jacobs Plaza and in 2016 the Great Falls Public Library installed a mural of her on the library she helped build.
James Welch wrote his own best epitaph. “Indian writers might come from different eras, from different geographies, from different tribes, but we all have one thing in common: We are storytellers from a long way back. And we will be heard for generations to come.”
Welch was born in 1940 in Browning and lived on the Blackfeet and Fort Belknap Reservations. He earned a bachelor’s degree in creative writing at the University of Montana.
He published his first poetry in 1971 “Riding the Earthboy Forty. He went on to the novels “Winter in the Blood,” The Death of Jim Loney,” Fools Crow, ”The Indian Lawyer, and ”The Heartsong of Charging Elk.”
Many consider “Fools Crow” his best historical novel. In it, Welch takes his leading character up to the tragic 1870 Marias River Massacre.
It is a ripping account of the tribulations of the Blackfeet nation from the scourge of smallpox, to oppressive treaties to massacres and other tragedies. Throughout the novel Welch tells of the culture and world view that was at the heart of the Blackfeet nation. The novel won numerous honors including the prestigious American Book Award.
He also was a teacher, historian and film consultant until his death in 2003.