Gregory Library Watch

Preserving working class Black history

Houston Chronicle covers (up?) our issue

On Sunday November 14, the Houston Chronicle ran a short piece about the Gregory Library. They were responding to a press conference we called on Saturday November 13, which marked the one year anniversary of the facility.

Here is the photo and the complete text of the article:

Critics accuse library of selective history

Activists say story of poor blacks excluded

By HIBA ADI
HOUSTON CHRONICLE

Nov. 13, 2010, 10:23PM

A handful of activists from Freedmen’s Town spent the first anniversary of the African American Library at the Gregory School voicing concerns about Houston’s first black history and culture library.

Timothy O’Brien, a historian with Gregory Library Watch, a group established in January to monitor the activities of the taxpayer-funded public library, said the building at 1300 Victor excludes certain historical information.

Activist Lenwood Johnson said, for example, the library won’t archive stacks of documents he has from a 15-year effort to save Allen Parkway Village housing.

Long-standing tension between community activists and elected officials is stunting the growth of the archival collection, they said.

“It’s all political,” O’Brien said. “You go in that Freedmen’s Town room and the timeline on the three walls stops at 1954.”

The building, once Fourth Ward’s Edgar Gregory School, sat vacant for almost 30 years. Transforming it into a library took years of struggle and cost more than $11 million in federal grants, as well as library and city construction funds.

“Now it’s become this archive where all the people in the neighborhood, African-Americans, are not welcomed,” O’Brien said. “They don’t want to hear the low-income black history because it indicts the African-American politicians,” he said.

At least one historical researcher applauded the library’s efforts.

“Before they were beginning to open, they were getting people to bring their history so they could exhibit it,” said Debra B. Sloan, historical researcher for R.B.H. Yates Museum.

The library does need more visitors and more collections, she added.

“There isn’t enough old history,” she said. “I have tried to get people (in the community) to talk to (the library), but they don’t want to. … Maybe it’s too painful.

“They would be willing to take anything anyone gives them. This is the best we can get right here.”

Library visitors such as Gregory School alumnus Charley Earl, 66, said documents are scanned every day.

“If you bring it, they will scan it and put it in the archives,” he said. “Maybe not on … display, but from what I gather that’s going to change. They’re going to take stuff down and put other stuff up.

“A lot of history was lost,” he said. “It’s hard to get a lot of those old documentations.”

hiba.adi@chron.com

Here’s the link where you can read all the comments:

Houston Chronicle story link.

November 21, 2010 Posted by | Press Conference | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Channel 13 ABC covers our group

Channel 13 Video here!

On Friday February 5, 2010 the 6:00 news on Channel 13 ran a story on us. Check out the TV clip.

They also put the text of our open letter to the mayor on their website. Thanks to reporter Cynthia Cisneros.

Library watch group wants changes

HOUSTON (KTRK) — A group is fighting to have more access to a library in one of Houston’s historic neighborhoods. They say the city needs to allow more community involvement.

They’re talking about the African-American library at Gregory school in Houston’s Fourth Ward.

It’s a question Linda Feldman has asked often.

“I sit in my living room and look out and ask why there’s not more traffic going inside there should be a lot of traffic in there,” she said.

Feldman is a long time Fourth Ward neighbor and was thrilled when the historic and run-down school was renovated and recently reopened as the African-American library at the Gregory school

Neighbor Lenwood Johnson and others there complain the state of the art research facility is often empty and is not community friendly, meaning only those doing research on African-American history and viewing exhibits are encouraged to go inside.

Neighbors with whom we spoke say empty rooms should be filled with computers for homework and other projects.

“Families here are too poor to have Internet services, so this could do it,” said Johnson.

The city says the facility is not a traditional library. It is a research facility, however a mobile library with over a dozen computers for public use come here twice a week and is free of charge.

“The function of this facility is to provide a place to preserve the history of African-Americans in Houston,” said Sandra Fernandez with the Houston Public Library. “So that means what we’re gathering is a collection of archival materials, oral histories and other items to help reach that goal.”

The Houston Public Library says it’s also working with area schools to open the facility to school tours. And anyone who graduated from the Gregory School is asked to come by the facility to share their story.
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Re: An open letter to Mayor Annise Parker

Dear Mayor Parker,

On January 5, 2010 Mr. Lenwood Johnson and I met with Helena Stokes, the administrative manager at the African American Library at Gregory School (AALG). We offered our volunteer services including grant writing and advising on community involvement. Ms. Stokes not only denied to utilize our expertise in African American history and community organizing, she also denied community groups access to the library facilities.

We suggested that the AALG offer some after school programs which are particularly needed by the residents in the immediate vicinity of the library. There is a lot of drug dealing in our Freedmen’s Town neighborhood that children must walk by on their way home from school everyday. Our children need structured, regularly scheduled adult supervised programs to save them from the streets. In fact I will volunteer to teach an after school class two days a week.

One month has passed since our meeting with Ms. Stokes, yet she refuses to even bother to answer our followup correspondence.

As you may know, the AALG has an annual payroll of $437,405. In addition the AALG is also budgeted to spend $18,000 on unqualified consultants. The AALG is supposed to be an archive of African American history, yet it only holds less than 10 linear feet of collections and does not even have any historical black periodicals or even subscriptions to the current African American newspapers. Ms. Stokes and the entire Houston Public Library system does not have one grant in process to purchase African American collections, nor have they ever written one grant to build their non-existent collection.

Affirmative action programs need to be installed in the AALG in order to address the community’s needs. The AAGL sits unused because the community’s requests, the city’s own consultants and the city Housing and Community Development’s plans for the Gregory School building were ignored.

In these days of budget deficits the Houston taxpayers should not be expected to pay nine (9) library staff to sit around with nothing to do when they in fact could and should be serving the community. What is even more shocking is that not one employee of the African American Library at Gregory even has a credential in African American history or studies.

We respectfully request that one of AAGL’s three empty classrooms be immediately reprogrammed into a computer lab with one staffer assigned to assist patrons with job searches and homework. Furthermore, we request that the community be granted access to the facility so that we provide volunteer after school programs. Finally, we request that the excessive security forces in AALG be reduced to a normal amount.

Sincerely,

Timothy O’Brien, Ph.D
On behalf of Gregory Library Watch

(Copyright ©2010 KTRK-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)
Link to ABC TV posting of story.

February 6, 2010 Posted by | media | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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