Beatties Ford Road Library Renamed For Allegra Westbrooks, NC's First Black Public Library Supervisor
You may notice some changes at the Beatties Ford Road Library.
Last April, it officially became the Allegra Westbrooks Regional Library: Beatties Ford Road. But the COVID-19 pandemic quickly scrapped plans for a ceremony to celebrate the name change.
“Our monument sign was changed. The etching, my glass doors was changed,” said branch manager Hannah Terrell. “We sent out a press release. So, for all intents and purposes, we weren't defeated by COVID in that we are officially the Allegra Westbrooks Regional Library.”
Terrell joined the Beatties Ford Road team three years ago, after the decision to change the branch’s name was already in place. But she jumped in and began planning the ceremony. Since it was canceled, she’s spent the pandemic working to make people aware of the change and the history of Westbrooks.
Allegra Westbrooks was the first Black public library supervisor in North Carolina. She served as head of acquisition for all Charlotte Mecklenburg public library branches from 1950 to her retirement in 1984.
Westbrooks was born in 1921 in Maryland. She attended Fayetteville State Teachers College, now known as Fayetteville State University. At 26, she moved to Charlotte to head Acquisition of Negro Library Services and the Brevard Street Library. This was 1947, a time where the Brevard Street branch was one of two locations open to Black residents in North Carolina.
Westbrooks made great strides for the Black community while in this position. She was known as a pioneer and became the bridge between the Black community and the public library.
Branch librarian Jeremy Lytle said Westbrooks created many ways to connect Black people to books.
“She would work with community organizations, churches, schools, to try to put library books in their facilities so that instead of having to go all the way to the Brevard Street branch, they could go to their local organization,” Lytle said.
In addition to starting a delivery service between the Brevard Street branch and the main branch, Westbrooks started a mobile book service in 1948 that lasted 17 years. She would travel to schools and areas in the county where Black people couldn’t easily access the library — or even books.
Regardless of her position, she still faced challenges from people who didn’t support her or her work. In a 2007 interview for UNCC’s Brooklyn Oral History Project, Westbrooks detailed an experience she had while out in the bookmobile at Sterling High School.
“I remember the county superintendent happened to come when I was out there one day with the bookmobile and he said, 'What are you doing with this thing out here? You just get it away from here, get it away from here,'” Westbrooks said. “And I said, 'Well Mr. Wilson, the school library doesn't have books to serve them. And this was a central place where I could meet them.' And he said, well, to 'get it away from here.' So, I moved.”
Although she had a lot of power as the supervisor of all the public libraries in Charlotte, she wasn’t really able to use it. She wasn’t even allowed to enter branches outside of the Brevard Street location until 1956, when the library officially integrated.
“Whoever is in that position now can just send an email and say 'You need to do this, make it happen,'” Lytle said. “She couldn't really do that, so she had to be more gentle and suggestive about it as opposed to, you know, 'I'm your superior. I'm giving you an order.'”
Westbrooks spent a good chunk of her life serving the Black community in Charlotte. The prominent Black speakers she invited to the library helped increase attendance at the Brevard Street branch. She helped form a coalition of people working in human services to strengthen what the library had to offer. She even served as a co-director of the North Carolina Library Association, giving her the opportunity to speak at the American Library Association’s convention in Canada. She was a member of the Charlotte Links Organization and of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated.
As a Black woman, branch manager Hannah Terrell says she’s honored to head the branch named after Westbrooks. She says Westbrooks' sacrifice is why she’s able to lead a library today.
“This location is named and was renamed after just a humble woman who didn't think at the time that she was making the impact that she did by being the courier in some instances, being the connector in other instances, from the Black community and literature, the Black community and access,” Terrell said.
As more people learn about the name change and of Westbrooks, Terrell says she just wants people to be present in the significance of the moment.
The Allegra Westbrooks Regional Library: Beatties Ford Road isn’t just the only branch in Charlotte named after a person, but also the first branch in the city to be named after a Black woman.
Westbrooks retired in 1984 after 37 years of service. She died in April 2017 at 96 years old.