Berkeley’s South Branch Library Poised to Be Renamed After Local Hero

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The Berkeley Library Board of Trustees is expected to soon make a decision on a proposal to name the South Branch Library at 1901 Russell St. after longtime Berkeley resident Tarea Hall Pittman.

 

The board will take final public comment at its next meeting Wednesday, March 11 at 6 p.m. at the South Branch Library.

 

Pittman’s life work helped shape a better Berkeley and move the country closer to its promise of equality for all. She enrolled in UC Berkeley in 1923, at a time when on-campus housing was closed to her because she was Black.

 

The daughter of an Alabaman farm laborer – who, along with his sons, founded the Bakersfield chapter of the NAACP – activism for the common good was in her blood.

 

In 1936, Pittman organized West Coast branches of the National Negro Congress. That same year, she assisted in the creation of the Negro Education Council, which provided research assistance and funded “Negroes in the News,” a radio program dedicated to publicizing positive news about the African American community.

 

Having founded the radio show, Pittman hosted the program into the late 70s. She served as president of the California State Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (1936-1938), an organization active in voter registration and funding orphanages for African American children.

 

During World War II she organized protests at the Kaiser shipyards and at sites of other war industries, which resulted in the hiring of women and Black workers. She served as president of the California Council of Negro Women from 1948-1951.

 

In 1952, she assisted in the fight to desegregate the Oakland Fire Department. She went on to successfully lobby for the California Fair Employment Practice bill that was signed into law in 1959 by Governor Edmund “Pat” Brown.

 

Pittman tirelessly devoted her life to human rights and social justice.

 

As someone who was instrumental in dismantling the covenant that restricted Black residency to below Grove (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Way), naming the library that sits above that former border is nothing short of a poetic tribute to such an important figure as Tarea Hall Pittman.

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