In a refreshing re-consideration, the Board of Library Trustees agreed to modify its Naming Policy and to add Tarea Hall Pittman’s name to that of the South Berkeley Library. The Board special meeting was held on Thursday, May 7 at 6:30 pm at the South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis St.
The proposed revision of the Naming Policy will permit the name of an appropriate person to be proposed and accepted if there is good documentation and strong community and neighborhood support.
Phyllis Gale, who represented the League in the discussions with Charles Austin and the neighborhood supporters, commented: “I am pleased to see the democratic process working well to recognize Mrs. Pittman–who herself was a remarkable leader in struggles for democratic and civil rights for the African-American community. Her work benefited all members of our community.”
For the Library Board packet see
Breaking News: On Thursday, the day after the meeting, many calls to Council Members seem to have led to a possible solution. Council Member Moore may “pull” and postpone consideration of the renewal of the terms of the two Trustees and the Library Board may schedule an emergency meeting to reconsider their decision.
Belva Davis, distinguished broadcaster, was one of 56 or more people who came out to praise the accomplishments and impact of Tarea Hall Pittman on Wed. April 22, at the South Berkeley Library. Speaking to the five member Board of Library Trustees, they advocated for changing the name of the library to recognize Tarea Hall Pittman, African-American civil rights leader, in the name of the South Berkeley Library.
The first forty minutes of the meeting were inspiring, as, one after another, people recalled Mrs. Pittman’s actions, personality and effectiveness as a civil rights leader.
Attendees were disappointed and angry when, on a vote of 3 to 2, the Board refused to suspend their narrow Naming Policy–which would have enabled them to consider the renaming of the South Branch to add Mrs. Pittman’s name.
Darryl Moore, Board Member and City Council representative, and Winston Burton supported the proposal. Council Member Moore then pointed out that two of the five board members would be considered for new four year terms at the upcoming City Council meeting and asked people to contact their Council representatives.
During the opening public comment period, Ms. Davis said that, when she was growing up in Berkeley, Mrs. Pittman was the first black woman she heard speak on the radio. Mrs. Pittman inspired her to become a journalist and broadcaster. Even though she had attended and reported on hundreds of public hearings, this was the first, Ms. Davis said, that she had spoken at.
Debi McIntire recalled that Mrs. Pittman led the charge to build a new library for south Berkeley on Russell St at Grove [now Martin Luther King Jr Way]. Her own mother joined Mrs. Pittman, Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Logan and others to build a better library for the children of south Berkeley. At that time, African-American and Japanese residents could not live north of Grove Street–so the location has particular resonance for the community at a time when the black population of Berkeley had declined to 7 or 8% from 25% or more. This aspect of Mrs. Pittman’s history suggests that she does meet one of the requirements of the Library’s very narrow Naming Policy–that the person has been uniquely important to the Library.
The campaign to name the South Berkeley Library in Mrs. Pittman’s honor also appears to meet another of the Library’s Naming Policy criteria. It has grown into a genuine movement of neighbors and supporters under the guidance of Charles Austin and the convening committee. Mr. Austin estimates that he has gathered 2000 signatures of Berkeley residents in support of this effort. The local, regional and national NAACP leaders and many other organizations and individuals have written, or spoken at the April 22 and the previous Library Board meeting.
Among those speaking and writing in support were: former Berkeley Vice-Mayor Carol Davis Kennerly, former City Council Member Mary Wainwright and Jeanie L. Rucker, former Director of the Berkeley Board of Education and of the Berkeley Library Board of Trustees, who recalled her first job working with Mrs. Pittman, then Regional Director of the Western Regional Office of the NAACP. A letter from Charles Austin and the convening committee draws on more recent archival research by Phyllis Gale and others and quotes some of the letters written to the board: Request to Name the South Branch Library the Tarea Hall Pittman – South Branch Berkeley Public Library
The LWVBAE Board voted to support this effort, as has the Berkeley Historical Society. You can read our letter at LWVBAE-to-Library-Board-Re-Pittman-March-2015
Mrs. Hall was best known for the radio program Negroes in the News that she hosted on KDIA radio in Oakland California for 45 years. The 15 minute broadcast on Sunday mornings was listened to widely in the African-American community in Berkeley and the Bay Area. Mrs. Hall earned the community’s attention by persistent and energetic civil rights campaigns starting in the 1930’s. She led protests to win jobs for African-Americans in wartime industries and eventually lobbied successfully with the NAACP to pass the California Fair Employment Practices bill which Governor Edmund Pat Brown signed in 1959.
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