Why Wake County should change the name of this library branch again

by Leeya

My local public library was an essential part of my childhood, as it is now in my teenage years. I spent countless summer days there, seeking relief from humid North Carolina summers. I was amazed at the shelves of colorful books, all of which I could check out. It was my comfort place, where I could explore the world.

I never paid much attention to the library’s name: Cameron Village Regional Library. But that changed last January when I read about the decision by Regency Center, which owns the shopping center where the library is located, to change the center’s name from Cameron Village Shopping Center to Village District.

A few months later, Wake County commissioners unanimously changed the name of the library to Village Regional Library. Those decisions to drop the Cameron name were based on the Cameron family’s connection to slavery. They were the largest slave owners in North Carolina.The name change prompted me to understand the importance of names and the influence they have on our lives. I wanted my special library to have a name that matched the wonder and love of learning I felt there. A generic name like Village Regional Library could be given to any urban library in America, in any city in America.

But, we are not any city in America. We are Raleigh, a place filled with a rich and storied history.

In February, a friend and I interviewed a member of Friends of Oberlin Village. I learned about the history of Oberlin Village, a community of freed slaves with one of the highest concentrations of educated Blacks in North Carolina. It was likely named by James E. Harris after Oberlin College in Ohio, one of the first colleges to accept Black students.

It’s this history that should be reflected in the library’s name.

Last summer, some other middle school students and I went door-to-door in nine Raleigh neighborhoods and gathered more than 200 signatures to change the name from Village Regional Library to Oberlin Village Regional Library.

Here are the three reasons I believe it must change:

  • The Village Regional Library does not connect to our city’s history.
  • Oberlin Village reflects an established academic institution, which is fitting for a library name. That name would reflect the academic aspirations of the Oberlin Village community.
  • The Oberlin Village name has ties to history — a pioneering community of free and previously enslaved people. It also has ties to changes we hope for in our future — a more just and multiracial society.

Last September, Cheryl Williams, an Oberlin Village descendant and vice chair of Friends of Oberlin Village, and I presented our petition at a Wake County Board of Commissioners work session. As Williams told commissioners: “The library is a place where our knowledge may be uplifted.”

Commissioners expressed unanimous support for exploring this name change. They’re slated to make a final decision April 4.

The library will always be an important part of my life. But in the future, I’d like to walk into a building where I’m not only amazed at the many shelves of colorful books, but also feel a sense of pride in the name above the door. I want it to honor the history of my neighborhood.

Original article