Charlemae Hill Rollins was a pioneering librarian, author, and storyteller in the area of African-American literature. She served for thirty-one years as the head librarian of the children’s department at the Chicago Public Library.
Rollins was born in Yazoo City, Mississippi, to Allen G. Hill, a farmer, and Birdie Tucker Hill, a teacher. Her family moved to Beggs in Oklahoma Territory hoping to find better living conditions but discovered that black children were excluded from attending school.
After completing her early education, Rollins attended black high schools in St Louis, Missouri, Holly Springs, Mississippi, and Quindoro, Kansas, where she graduated in 1916.
She earned her teaching certificate and taught at the school her family had set up before leaving to attend Howard University. She returned after a year to marry Joseph Walter Rollins on April 8, 1918. The couple moved to Chicago in 1919, after Joseph returned from World War I. Their son, Joseph Walter Rollins, Jr., was born in 1920.
Rollins found a job as a children’s librarian at the Chicago Public Library in 1927. Initially, she worked at the Hardin Square Branch Library, where she became known as a prolific storyteller. Though she did not earn a degree, Rollins received library training from Columbia College in the summer of 1932, and the graduate library program of the University of Chicago from 1934-1936.
In addition to her work with children, Rollins also set up a reading guidance clinic for parents. Many notable black writers visited the library, including Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Margaret Walker, and Langston Hughes, with whom Rollins developed a friendship.
Rollins was also a noted as a great storyteller. After retiring, Rollins turned her hand to writing. She published Christmas Gif’, an Anthology of Christmas Poems, Songs, and Stories Written by and about Negroes in 1963. Rollins served as president of the Children’s Services Division of the American Library Association from 1957 to 1958. Rollins died on February 3, 1969.