In July, the D.C. Library Board of Trustees voted to name the newly modernized library in Ward 8 for Bellevue, the neighborhood in which the library is located, in keeping with its long-standing authority, its policies and the preferences of neighborhood leaders. But without consultation or prior notice, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) submitted legislation to name the library for William O. Lockridge, a D.C. State Board of Education member and Ward 8 activist who died in January. Lockridge had plenty of political connections but no real connection to the library’s development, design or operation. The library board is unaware of any accomplishments that justify such an honor.
In fact, Lockridge had — at best — a questionable relationship with the library. In a March 17, 2010, incident at Washington Highlands Interim Library, Lockridge was asked by the branch manager to leave the children’s area because he was not accompanying a child, a violation of library rules. In response, according to the manager, Lockridge became belligerent, cursing her in front of children. He then reportedly told her that, because she was not black, she did not belong in a library east of the Anacostia. Only after she called the Metropolitan Police Department did Lockridge leave voluntarily.
The library aside, Mr. Lockridge’s activism had mixed results for Ward 8. For instance, he exercised his leadership to stop a group of well-meaning business leaders (including me) from responding to a request from the principal of Ballou Senior High School to help improve the school. Lockridge told us our help wasn’t welcome east of the river, and he rallied the community by saying the “establishment” was trying to take over their schools. As a result, classrooms did not get painted, a lab was left unrepaired and unusable, and basic beautification improvements were not carried out.
One final but telling incident was the 2004 campaign that Lockridge helped lead to stop Toyota from building a $5 million service training center east of the river. This facility would have given hundreds of Ward 8 residents the opportunity for job training, high-paying jobs and skills that would help them improve the quality of their lives. Negotiations broke down over a community benefits fund that would have funneled money to various other organizations. Apparently, good jobs were not enough of a benefit.
These incidents are an indication why William Lockridge’s legacy is a poor fit with the mission of our libraries. Libraries are places that welcome everyone, regardless of the color of their skin, where they live or their economic status.
There is a reason that D.C. law requires a person be deceased for at least two years before a structure can be named for him or her. It is so the legacy of that person can be viewed without emotion, without politics and against the test of time.
Enough is enough. Protect our libraries from interference, and let the library board do its job to serve and educate the residents of this great city.
The writer is president of the D.C. Board of Library Trustees.