Residents, council members petition for city library’s south branch to be named after activist

Lindsay Hansen/Staff

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As of Feb. 18, more than 1,000 people have signed a petition supporting a name change for the Berkeley Public Library’s South Branch to honor local civil rights activist Tarea Hall Pittman.

The movement to memorialize Pittman has been spearheaded by Berkeley resident Charles Austin, who recalled Pittman’s contributions to the African American community in the Bay Area. Councilmember Linda Maio said Austin approached her a few months ago with the idea, which Maio and Councilmember Darryl Moore brought to the City Council this month.

Pittman began her undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley in 1923 and eventually got her master’s degree from the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare. In the 1930s, she began working for the NAACP and California State Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, advocating social welfare and reform.

In addition, as part of her work with the NAACP in the 1950s, Pittman lobbied for the passage of the California Fair Employment Practices Act, which sought to eliminate discrimination in businesses and labor unions based on race.

Pittman also campaigned to increase voter registration and expand employment opportunities for African Americans to become teachers, firefighters and police officers.

Maio noted Pittman’s popularity and acknowledged the significance of honoring a public building in her name.

“She was a woman — she was brilliant and very civic minded,” she said. “She was a self starter. She saw what needed to be done, and she went out and did it. And that’s a very rare thing.”

Although the City Council on Feb. 10 announced its public support for the renaming, the Board of Library Trustees still must approve the change for it to go into effect.

The library’s naming policy states that “a proposed honoree should reflect the spirit of the Berkeley Public Library’s mission of free and equal access to information for all.”

It also requires that an honoree “has dedicated a substantial amount of energy, time, resources, leadership and/or volunteer service to improve and benefit the Berkeley Public Library system or the library facility in question.”

Jeff Scott, director of library services, stated in an email that the board is currently trying to determine whether Pittman bears a sufficient connection with the library to warrant the honor.

Maio pointed out that it would be difficult to find a significant public figure who contributed directly to the Berkeley Public Library.

“I would say that (Pittman) was obviously a person who valued and worked for literacy,” Maio said. “Whether or not she had a direct connection is asking quite a lot — you need need a broader interpretation.”

The library board is set to discuss the possibility of renaming the south branch next month.

Contact Ivana Saric at [email protected].