San Angelo, TX - The historic Dunbar Library has been at MLK and West 9th streets in the old Blackshear neighborhood since the 1930's.
Until the early 70's, the library served as a center of learning in an all-black neighborhood.
"The libraries we had in San Angelo were huge but African Americans weren't allowed in it," says Maria Hawkins. "African American individuals had this small library that was an affront to equality. They had a place to check out books, which is somewhat equal, but the place we had had thousands and thousands of books."
The library was abandoned by the Tom Green County Library system and became a meeting location for North by Northwest Lions Club members.
A series of conversations, however, led a number of community members to discuss the possibility of renovating the library as a historical site.
Dunbar Library supporters got to work, obtaining grants for the site and designing how the building is to be renovated.
All while attempting to salvage as many of the books from the library's first years as possible.
"I would suspect the average citizen of San Angelo could do nothing but walk around and read the pictures on the wall and posters and thereby double their understanding of a history of our community with different races," says Craig Meyers--one of many members of the community to help out with the renovation project.
Erma Brooks says she spent months wiping off dust from old books and helping to install new ones onto revitalized bookshelves in the library.
She says once the library's image began to unfold, she began to feel a sense of comfort while taking a look at posters and books all around her detailing the struggles of African Americans throughout U.S. history.
"I grew up in Wichita Falls and experienced the black and white water fountains and restrooms and can't go here and can't go there," Brooks explains--admiring the many artifacts around her. One of which was a cupboard specifically donated to the library which was built by slaves near Atlanta in the 1830's.
"When I look at that Little Rock 9 poster over there and I can hear the words coming out of those people's mouths behind Ruby Bridges--imagine what it was like to live in that moment."
Ronnie and Maria Hawkins played a big part in renovating the exterior of the building. Their desire to keep the library as an historical piece of San Angelo is why they wanted to help.
The Hawkins said they tried to stay true to what the original exterior of the building looked like and were satisfied not only with their end of the long list of tasks, but also the work of the library's interior--which was outlined by Sally and Craig Meyers.
"We're in the process of trying to make this a historical landmark here in Texas so there's still more work to be done, administratively," Ronnie Hawkins says.
To have a building housing so much African American history requires an open door for Howard College and Angelo State students, but the Meyers, Hawkins and Erma Brooks say they would love to see high school and even elementary school students make their way to the library to expand on the education provided from local schools.
"The ones who I really want to come are the younger kids, who know nothing about the struggle. I think it's great they can come in and read the struggles their parents and grandparents went through so they can ride wherever they wanted to ride on the bus," Brooks explains. "There's so many other people and I don't know if many realize how many white or non-black people there were in the struggle. How many lost their lives."
Many hands had a role in stripping the Dunbar Library of its previous foundation and renewing it with a modern finish.
A special event will honor the Dunbar Library's renovations on Saturday September 30th at the library's location at MLK and West 9th Street starting at noon.
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