BREAKING: 5 things you need to know about Mountain Brook Library’s new name

The O'Neal Library is the new name for the Mountain Brook Library
The O’Neal Library in Mountain Brook. Photo via The O’Neal Library’s Facebook page

Recent protests have sparked a wave of soul-searching among people and institutions here in the Magic City and across the globe. On July 1, reporter Roy Johnson wrote an opinion piece entitled “Time to change Mountain Brook’s library, named for white supremacist Alabama governor.” Last night both the Library Board and the Mountain Brook City Council voted to approve a name change. From now, the library will be known as The O’Neal Library.

1. But first, a little personal story

The Mountain Brook Library has a new name - stacks of books
All those books… Photo via Unsplash

The Emmet O’Neal Library is where I learned to love reading. My Dad and I would go there when I was in elementary school and head over to the adventure books section. I’d come home with a pile of stories to dive into, and he would get books, too. 

Now that I’m a grownup, it’s one of my go-to libraries where my family goes to stock up on books, and sometimes audiobooks and movies when we’re going on a trip. We know half the librarians who work there, and used to love going to see Roger Day concerts outside in the summer, or programs where my kids could hold snakes or see real live kangaroos. 

I really never had any idea who Emmet O’Neal was, and never gave it a moment’s thought until I read Johnson’s opinion piece last week. 

2. Emmet O’Neal was governor of Alabama between 1911-15, and one of the framers of our constitution

photo of Emmet O'Neal
Emmet O’Neal. Photo via Birmingham Public Library

According to BhamWiki,

“Emment O’Neal was the 36th Governor of Alabama, serving from 1911 to 1915. Although he ran on a platform of regulating railroad rates, increasing funding for public education and improving roads, he also argued for protecting political supremacy for white citizens, expanding aid to Confederate veterans and various restrictions on immigration into the state by undesirables.

During his tenure as Governor, O’Neal hindered the economic and political advancement of African-Americans, notably by circumventing federal appropriations to Tuskegee Institute and the Huntsville State Colored Normal School and redirecting them to the Alabama Polytechnic Institute. Later, when running for a seat in the U.S. Senate, O’Neal criticized the 19th Amendment, which gave the right to vote to women.”

For more details, see  Johnson’s article

Originally, the library was named after him because of a generous gift from the former Elizabeth and Kirkman O’Neal Foundation, created by the former governor’s son. 

After deliberation, officials have decided to change the name. Here’s what they said: 

3. The Library Board proposed the change

Girl reading
Libraries are for learning. Photo via Unsplash

“For more than fifty years, the Emmet O’Neal Library has been committed to providing excellent library and information services to the public, as well as a welcoming and safe learning environment to its patrons and employees.  Recent events in our state and country have turned our attention to opportunities for change and improvement and have challenged us to reconsider some long-held symbols.  As a Board, we have been asked to re-examine the name of the Library because of the role that Emmet O’Neal played in perpetuating segregation in our State.”

From the Resolution from the Library Board of Emmet O’Neal Library

4. The O’Neal family supports the name change

“Although there are other more positive chapters in the story of Emmet O’Neal, we have conferred with the O’Neal family and, with their support, have concluded that it is not in the best interests of the mission of the Library for it to continue to bear his name.”

From the Resolution from the Library Board of Emmet O’Neal Library

5. The new name will reflect the entire O’Neal family’s generosity and leadership since 1964

“We acknowledge the generous support and learning-focused leadership provided to the Library by the O’Neal family.  The Library began as a gift from Elizabeth and Kirkman O’Neal in 1964, and the O’Neal family has steadfastly supported the Library and its mission ever since.  The Library would not be what it is today without the commitment of the O’Neal family.  The O’Neal family of at least the past half-century has engaged in philanthropy throughout our community that has made life in central Alabama better for all people.  In recognition of their leadership and support, I hereby introduce a Resolution to change the name of the Emmet O’Neal Library to the O’Neal Library.”

From the Resolution from the Library Board of Emmet O’Neal Library

Now tell us, Birmingham, what do you think of the library’s new name? Tag us on social @bhamnow and let us know.

Sharron Swain
Sharron Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference

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