Library trustees vote to recommend renaming of Berkeley Public Library’s South Branch

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Library trustees voted to recommend renaming a branch of the Berkeley Public Library after Tarea Hall Pittman, a long-time Berkeley resident and civil rights activist, who died in 1991.

The Board of Library Trustees’ recommendation goes to Berkeley City Council for approval after the board’s vote in a special meeting Thursday. The movement to rename the library, which is spearheaded by Berkeley resident Charles Austin, has received widespread support from the community, including from several prominent individuals and organizations such as the League of Women Voters and the NAACP.

Pittman, who was born in 1903, lived in South Berkeley for most of her life and attended UC Berkeley in 1923. She was a long-standing member and leader of the NAACP, the National Negro Congress, the California Council of Negro Women and several other civil rights organizations.

For 45 years, she hosted a weekly radio program called “Negroes in the News,” which focused on positive news about the African American community. She also fought for the voting rights of African Americans and worked to desegregate communities and workplaces.

During the special meeting, the board also amended several aspects of the library facilities naming policy so that the South Branch of the library could be renamed after Pittman.

There was a lack of evidence that Pittman “has dedicated a substantial amount of energy, time, resources, leadership and/or volunteer service to improve and benefit the Berkeley Public Library,” as is required by the existing naming policy, according to library director Jeff Scott. Scott said, however, that Pittman’s accomplishments are so remarkable that the board sees it is appropriate to relax the requirement and allow the name change.

Scott added that although the requirement is relaxed, the individual “still has to have the spirit of the library.”

Board vice-chair Julie Holcomb said that although she does not personally believe libraries should be named after individuals, she voted in favor of the renaming so that the city “can move forward.” She cited a case of San Francisco debating for several years whether to rename a public library after former state senator Milton Marks.

Holcomb said that she does not agree with the renaming because there are “so many remarkable people who merit having a building named after them” and that it is hard to choose which ones to honor. She added that the merits of Pittman were never in question.

Board member Jim Novosel said he hopes the vote will encourage more diversity within the workplaces of the Friends of the Berkeley Public Library and the Berkeley Public Library Foundation, the two main organizations that provide financial support to the library. These two organizations, according to Novosel, are still predominantly white.

During the special meeting, board member and Councilmember Darryl Moore also recommended the appointment of a subcommittee that would work on designing the signage for the new name. The members of the subcommittee would be appointed at the next board meeting May 28.

The date has not yet been set for City Council to decide whether it will approve the board’s recommendation, according to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko.

Contact Natchapol Praditpetchara at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @natchapolp.