Library Windows Honor African-American Leaders in Waco’s History | Story

The East Waco Library normally holds history in the books kept inside its walls, but some of Waco’s history has moved outside in the form of large-scale decals honoring the life of seven pioneers of Black Waco.

Mesh decals, which let light into the interior of the library, fill the library windows facing Elm Avenue with photo images of Waco leaders and a brief summary of their heritage. A small ceremony at the library on Thursday announced the decals and their stories to an audience of about 50 people that included friends, family or acquaintances of the winners.

Waco City Council member Andrea Barefield, who served on the committee that selected all seven and chose more for digital display inside the library, said windows facing the community will serve double aim to honor the seven and their accomplishments while serving to inspire viewers. with their leadership stories.

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At a time when the naming of schools, buildings and streets to recognize individuals is becoming less common, it’s important to seize opportunities for public recognition of pioneers and community builders when they arise, Barefield said. .

The seven honored in the windows — RL Smith, Garry Radford, Emma Harrison, Tom Wilson, Noah Jackson, Alice Pollard and Lester Gibson — were a small portion of black residents with notable contributions to Waco’s history and culture that a selection committee considered.

Their challenge led to a new dimension of the project, the creation of a digital slideshow accompanied by photos and a short bio of 30 other important black leaders and pioneers.

Library manager Essy Day told the audience that the windows were part of a public library’s obligation to preserve and archive local history, a point Barefield elaborated on in her remarks.

“We were able to identify some of our legends, leaders and story makers from our community,” Barefield said.

Waco City Council member Andrea Barefield speaks Thursday at a ceremony to unveil seven East Waco Library window panels honoring black leaders in Waco’s history.

Jerry Larson, Tribune-Herald

At the same time, the project had limitations of only seven to select from and a limited amount of window panel information.

“How can we define a legacy of life on a panel? You can’t,” Barefield said. “But it’s the beginning of our future, something the next generation can study, honor and grow.”

Waco NAACP President Peaches Henry joined Barefield on the selection committee; Jeanette Bell, president of the North East Riverside Neighborhood Association; Rachel Pate, Vice President of Economic Development for the African American Chamber of Commerce Cen-Tex; and Don Wright of the Central Texas African-American Heritage Foundation.

Those selected for the window treatments were considered pioneers and leaders in seven categories:

  • RL Smith, founder of the Farmers Improvement Society Bank in 1908, in the economic development category
  • Garry Radford, practicing dentist for over 40 years and first black elected to the Waco City Council, science and medicine
  • Emma Harrison, First Black Person Elected to Waco Independent School District Board, Education
  • Tom Wilson, first black producer for Columbia Records and instrumental in historic recordings by Bob Dylan, the Velvet Underground, Simon & Garfunkel and more, arts & entertainment
  • Noah Jackson, co-founder of Waco Eastern Little League baseball and leader in youth football and sports
  • Alice Pollard, Waco Police Department’s first black female officer, civic leadership
  • Lester Gibson, first black man elected to countywide office, serving 28 years as McLennan County Commissioner, political.

Gibson, who died in June, was also recently honored by the Waco City Council by having a portion of Washington Avenue named after him.

Librarians Sean Sutcliffe and Alysha Suchaski searched the biographies of the seven in the window treatments. Brochures available at the library contain fuller accounts of their lives. Community Services Supervisor Jessica Emmett designed and created the mesh decals for the windows.

A brightly colored mural on the west side of the library, painted in 2013, complements the display cases with images of other Black East Waco community leaders, including Navy hero Doris Miller, singer Estella Maxey and l artist Kermit Oliver.

Day said the East Waco Library windows are uniquely suited to dealing with community history, but the library system will explore other ways to recognize community history at other branches in the system.

While the window treatments will remain fixed, new people and stories will be shot in the digital presentation over time. Emmett also said a planned upgrade to the city’s website should give viewers access to the digital presentation and any news the library may create.

Those present at the window ceremony on Thursday included Travis Gibson, son of Lester Gibson and mayor of Bellmead, and Ruth Jackson, widow of Noah Jackson. Jackson said she was thrilled at the recognition of her late husband in the library’s display cases.

“It’s fantastic,” she said with a broad smile. “It’s an honor for him – and for me.” Jackson lives nearby and regularly passes by the library, saying she will now see a photo of her husband on those trips. “I’ll have someone to wave to as I pass,” she laughs.

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