Apr 21, 2023 - News

Martin Luther King Jr. library's history celebrated

A man reads text of a historical marker outside a library to a crowd.

Tom Dillard, former Friends of the Library president, reads the new historical marker text to community leaders and family members of those honored. Photo: Tyler Buchanan/Axios

The first public library in the U.S. named for Martin Luther King Jr. — and the architect who designed it — have been honored in the King-Lincoln Bronzeville neighborhood as a critical part of our state's history.

Driving the news: Community leaders gathered Wednesday at the corner of Taylor and Long Streets to celebrate the new plaque recognizing the Martin Luther King Branch and architect Leon Ransom Jr.

  • Eighteen months into Axios Columbus' historical marker tour, this is our first time attending a marker's unveiling.

What they're saying: Columbus Metropolitan Library CEO Pat Losinski calls the library's history "a point of pride in the community" that "should be honored."

  • Ohio History Connection COO Stacia Kuceyeski said the site's connection to King's family makes it worthy of joining over 1,700 markers showcasing the "tapestry" of state history.

Flashback: An East Side library branch was under construction at 1600 Long St. when King was assassinated in April 1968.

  • Shortly after, library trustees renamed it after the civil rights leader. The words "I have a dream …" were inscribed on the front entrance.
  • King's father came to the library's opening and gave a well-attended dedication address.

Decades later, King's eldest son attended the 2018 dedication of the present branch at 1467 Long St. and urged support for public libraries.

  • "When my grandfather addressed the audience that gathered on the dedication nearly half a century ago, he urged the community to make friends with books," Martin Luther King III said. "That's still great advice. Books and stories will get us through difficult times."

The intrigue: Both libraries were designed by notable Black architects.

  • Ransom, who helped start the city's first Black-led architectural firm in 1964, designed what would become the MLK Branch Library a few years later.
  • Columbus-based Moody Nolan, the largest Black-owned architectural firm in the U.S., designed the current library branch to be a "metaphorical response to the MLK monument in Washington, D.C., that reads: 'Out of a mountain of sorrow, a stone of hope.'"

The bottom line: The legacy of those who made history developing the King-Lincoln Bronzeville neighborhood lives on.

  • The historical marker features a 1969 photo of Ransom smiling during a tour of the library he designed.
  • On Wednesday, when the unveiling ceremony ended, his relatives gazed at the marker and photo with what appeared to be great pride in what he had built.

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