State Rep. Alvin Holmes said changing the name of the Rosa L. Parks Avenue Branch Library would send the wrong message to the world.
Holmes, D-Montgomery, said if the City Council agrees on Tuesday to change the name to the Willie Welch Branch Library – after the city’s first black librarian at a public library – he will block all city and county legislation.
He also said it would be difficult to explain to people throughout the world, who know and have honored Parks, why the city where she made her historic stand took her name off of a building.
“For the people of Montgomery to take her name off the building, that is completely asinine,” he said.
In May, the city-county library Board of Directors unanimously voted to change the name of the library to honor Williams, who served as a public librarian in Montgomery for 21 years. The Montgomery County Commission unanimously approved the change Monday.
Thomas McPherson, chairman of the library’s board of directors, said the library is currently named after the street it’s on. Its previous name was the Cleveland Avenue Branch Library, but was changed when the street was changed to Rosa Parks Avenue.
Holmes, who adamantly opposes changing the name, said he talked to Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange and to local ministers, and they agreed to recommend that the council change the name to reflect both women, keeping the same name but add “in memory of Bertha Pleasant Williams.”
Holmes pointed out that he and Strange do not have a vote on the council.
“It’s ultimately up to the City Council to make the final decision, but that is our recommendation to the City Council when they meet next Tuesday — that the Rosa Parks name will stay on the library and they will add ‘in memory of Bertha Williams’,” Holmes said Friday night.
Strange said he’s opposed to the name change, and hopes the council will agree to somehow use both names.
“Over time, it will be a hyphenated name of Parks-Williams,” Strange said.
Arch Lee, city councilor of the district the library is in, said he’s talked to several community leaders and people who live in the neighborhood, and most are in favor of changing the name to honor Williams.
“It’s not set in stone, but what I’m feeling is the community is for it,” Lee said. “It might just be one or two people talking real loud who are against it.”
Lee said the idea for the name change in the first place was a grassroots effort.
“If I’m mistaken, and there’s a rash of people that say ‘hey, no, this is bad,’ we’ll slow down and we’ll look,” Lee said. “We’ll just see what happens.”
Holmes said he had never heard of Williams and was “sure she was a fine lady,” but that there was a first black police officer and a first black bus driver and first black doctor and that being the first did not ensure that a building would be named for that person.
Mary Ann Neely, a local historian, said that in 1948, Williams became librarian at the first public library for black residents, who weren’t allowed to visit or use the city’s public library at the time. The library was housed in two rooms of the Jackson-Community House on South Union Street. Williams also served as librarian of the Cleveland Avenue Branch Library for nine years.
“This would in no way be disrespectful for Mrs. Parks, who has a library and museum named for her downtown,” Neely said. “We all need to know and remember the services of those who have contributed so much to the community. Mrs. Williams was also one of these.”
McPherson said the discussion about changing the name started when a local alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority wanted to put a plaque in front of the Rosa L. Parks Branch Library to recognize Williams’ service to the community. Williams was president of the sorority from 1954 to 1956.
The Rev. Willie Welch III, first vice president of the Montgomery Metro Baptist Ministers Alliance, said the alliance voted overwhelmingly earlier this year to oppose any change to the name of the library. He said the change would affect their community.
“We’ve got several pastors with churches on Rosa Parks, several pastors who lived during her time in Montgomery,” Welch said. “They were concerned that we wouldn’t do anything that would take away from her memory.”
Parks became known as the “mother of the modern day civil rights movement” after refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a city bus in 1955. She was arrested, which sparked the Montgomery bus boycott.
– posted by Kala Kachmar and Sebastian Kitchen