A collection of historical facts, like famed black history figures W.E.B. DuBois and Ida B. Wells coming to East St. Louis after the 1917 Race Riots, were presented Tuesday, Feb. 7 as part of the weeklong grand opening activities of the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville East St. Louis Learning Resource Center.
“Our open house began on Monday, and we have many interesting and educational events planned throughout the week to celebrate the reopening of the library and Black History Month,” said Lara Jennings, director of the Learning Resource Center.
“It’s important that the Resource Center is open,” said James Young, freshman at the SIUE East St. Louis Charter High School (CHS). “My English instructor (Colin Neumeyer) requires us to read a book each quarter, and with the library open, it will really expand our choices.”
“When I read that the library was opening again, I had to come out,” said Bettye Brown, who was the reference librarian from 1972-1997 at the same location when the library was operated by State Community College. “The library is extremely important to the community, but a lot of people come to use the computers and study. I think it’s a very good idea for the Resource Center to offer computer training and other services.”
During the open house on Tuesday, Reginald Petty, historian, civil rights activist and former Peace Corps director, along with Tiffany Lee, SIUE alum and communications instructor at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park, talked with a group of CHS students and others about black history and their native hometown of East St. Louis. Petty and Lee co-wrote the book, Legendary East St. Louisans: An African American Series. Lee’s company, TiffanyRose Publishing, published the book in June 2016.
“There’s so much to tell about the history of East St. Louis and its people,” said Petty. “Did you know that the current Second Chance Shelter at Sixth Street and St. Louis Avenue was once the first black public school in East St. Louis?” It was news to everyone in the small group who had gathered around the 81-year-old.
Lee sat at a table with CHS students and queried them about their interest in the City of East St. Louis, which was founded April 1, 1861, and about black history in general.
Petty, a commissioner of the East St. Louis 1917 Centennial Commission & Cultural Initiative, and Lee, who serves on the Commission’s Educational Committee, spoke in detail about the East St. Louis 1917 Race Riots. They also handed out material and documentation about the East St. Louis Riots, including first-hand accounts written by Ida B. Wells-Barnett.
“Some of the history is hard to hear, like the race riots and slavery,” said CHS freshman Jessie Body, “but black history is important to learn because, it tells us how we got to where we are and why we have to do the things we do to get to a better place.”
The grand opening included a poetry and essay contest submitted by area students. Kimbriel Williams, a CHS junior, wrote the following “I Am Black History” poem:
I am BLACK.
I am YOUNG.
A gift from God to an unholy earth.
I have done some wrongs and some rights.
I have won and lost some fights.
I am FREE.
Black History is important to me,
Because it resembles our history today.
Why should we only celebrate
Black History for one month, instead of in
Our everyday lives?
I AM BLACK HISTORY.
I make history. I don’t let it make me.
Grand opening activities continue today at 8:30 a.m. The featured speaker at 1:30 p.m. is Dr. Eugene B. Redmond, SIUE emeritus professor of English and poet laureate of East St. Louis.
Reginald Petty, co-author with Tiffany Lee of Legendary East St. Louisans: An African American Series, shows a SIUE East St. Louis Charter High School student a glass bottle made in East St. Louis 100 years ago.
Tiffany Lee, SIUE alum and communications instructor at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park, talks about the 1917 East St. Louis Riots.
Bettye Brown was the reference librarian from 1972-1997 at the same location when State Community College operated the library.