BY PAUL BICKLEY
Housed in the building that served as the African American grades K–9 school until the end of local school segregation in 1951, the Banneker Community Center’s Evans-Porter Memorial Library is a repository of approximately 2,000 volumes of African American history and culture, reference materials, and adult and children’s fiction.
The library is named for Alice Evans and Georgia Porter, teachers at the Benjamin Banneker School, says Leslie Brinson, Banneker’s program/facility coordinator. The school was located where the Banneker Community Center now stands, at 930 W. 7th St. Evans taught at the school from 1927 through 1951. Porter taught there from 1924 through 1951. The building itself was named for African American scientist, mathematician, surveyor, and author Benjamin Banneker.
Formerly the West Side Community Center, the building was renamed the Banneker Community Center in 1994 to “commemorate its years as a segregated school,” according to the state historical marker outside the building. Brinson says during the early 20th century, many African American families lived in the Near West Side neighborhood, close to the Showers Brothers Furniture Company where they were employed.
Jennifer Perry, a Banneker volunteer librarian, says current neighborhood resident Glorianne Leck donated much of the African American historical and cultural materials. Some of those materials were read during a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. remembrance at the Banneker Center marking the 49th anniversary of King’s assassination on April 4.
It’s fitting, Brinson believes, that the library houses such a collection. “Three generations of families have lived and gone to school in this neighborhood,” she says. “Some of the residents attended the Benjamin Banneker School.” The Evans-Porter Memorial Library also houses transcripts of oral histories from those who attended the segregated school.
The library’s biggest users are those who participate in Banneker’s after-school and summer literacy programs. Brinson says the Evans-Porter holdings “help kids learn to read and develop a love of reading.” Perry adds, “Having a conversation with a child wanting to share excitement about reading or needing help discovering something that sparks reading interest is always the best part of my day.”
Library hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, call 812-349-3735.