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A new name for Dudley library

Library board opts for ‘Roxbury’ name

Kenneal Patterson
A new name for Dudley library
The Dudley branch library, currently being renovated, has been renamed the Roxbury branch. BANNER PHOTO

Boston Public Library trustees have voted to change the Dudley branch’s name to the “Roxbury Branch of the Boston Public Library.” 

Not everyone is in favor of the name change, which passed in a 7-4 vote.

“Folks are stunned and upset,” said Sadiki Kambon, chair of the Nubian Square Coalition. “We intend to contest this whole process,” he told the Banner.

Kambon led the movement to rename Dudley Square to Nubian Square, in honor of the ancient Nubian Empire, an African empire in the Nile Valley. He said that the library’s name should have reflected this change.

The square and library were originally named after Thomas Dudley, a British Colonial official who governed the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the mid-17th century. There is no evidence that Dudley owned slaves, although many advocates claim that the governor perpetuated slavery and created laws that sanctioned slavery.

An outdoor pavilion under construction at the Roxbury branch library. BANNER PHOTO

An outdoor pavilion under construction at the Roxbury branch library. BANNER PHOTO

Critics of the square’s name change, which city officials made following a nonbinding referendum on the 2019 ballot, countered that Nubians owned slaves, and their descendants in the Nile Valley region continue to.

Kambon said that he reached out to the library system months ago and advocated for the Nubian title. When he urged the trustees to adopt this title, they had not yet made a decision.

Kambon was invited to a virtual trustee board meeting on May 26. He said that BPL President David Leonard told him that no vote would be formally taken on the name change at that time. He was told that due to the pandemic, there would be a “pause” to think through the issue.

Nevertheless, said Kambon, trustees voted that day. Despite Kambon’s testimony, the naming branch of the trustees decided on “Roxbury” rather than “Nubian.” Kambon said that the chair of the board of trustees, Robert Gallery, sabotaged things by calling for a vote on that day and rammed the new name down advocates’ throats. There was no public forum or community vote on the name change.

Evelyn Arana-Ortiz, vice chair of the BPL board of trustees, voted in favor of the name change. She said she hasn’t heard any complaints from members of the community as to the absence of a community vote.

All trustee meetings are public, and members of the community are invited to participate in the meeting during a public comment section.

Arana-Ortiz said she supported the Roxbury Historical Society and Friends of the Dudley Branch groups, who both supported the name change. The Friends group has a long history of working in the community, she said.

“Not only do they support the branch, they do fundraising for the library, they do events and they do scholarships for seniors going into college,” she said. “They do a lot for the library and they go even beyond on behalf of the library.”

Kambon said that only two or three trustees are connected to the community. State Rep. Chynah Tyler, who serves on the library’s board of trustees, supported Kambon. She was against the library’s name change, he said. He noted that she supported the Nubian Square change and wanted the library to follow suit.

Kambon noted that the MBTA had followed the square’s lead and changed the name of Dudley Station bus terminal to Nubian Station.

“Why wouldn’t the library follow the same path?” he said.

Kambon said the fact that the trustee vote was not unanimous “already tells you there’s concern” with the name change. Most people are “operating under the assumption that it was a done deal,” he said, but he intends to challenge the vote.

“We’re not just going to sit idly by,” he said. “We are definitely going to protest that name.”

He maintains that a vote from the community should have been taken to determine the name change.

“We’re getting ready to send a letter,” he said. “We’re going to make the appeal that the vote be rescinded.”

Kambon also pointed out that there are three other libraries in Roxbury. This branch, however, is centrally located in Nubian Square.

A May 27 press release from the Boston Public Library notes that the name change honors Roxbury’s historic contributions to Boston — contributions that date as far back as the Revolutionary War. It also notes that Roxbury was one of the first towns founded in the Massachusetts Bay Colony circa 1630.

The press release says that Roxbury is one of the few larger Boston neighborhoods without a library branch in its name. It has a 100-year historic precedent of being named Roxbury from the late 1800s to mid-1900s, however.

“The Roxbury Branch, housing the Fellowes Athenaeum, opened on Millmont Street in 1873, and served patrons for more than 100 years,” notes the press release.

Leonard said, “The community has said, loudly and clearly, that they do not feel the name Dudley is suitable for the square or the surrounding area. We return to having a Roxbury branch of the Boston Public Library as a testament to the deep, rich history of the area and its communities.”

In the press release, Arana-Ortiz said that she’s glad the branch’s name “will be synonymous with this dynamic neighborhood.”

Arana-Ortiz told the Banner that she found the Roxbury name to be more inclusive.

“I’m very conscious, very respectful about the history of the library. For that reason, I voted [for it] to be Roxbury branch,” she said. “Roxbury branch is one of the anchor libraries in the neighborhood, there are only a handful of those. So it’s important that it represents everyone and not just the square.”

Arana-Ortiz questioned how other demographic groups feel about the Nubian Square name.

“In the walls of our library, it says ‘Free to all,’” she said. “It doesn’t say, ‘the Nubian people’ or Latino … It doesn’t say that. It doesn’t specify demographics. It’s free to all and that is so important. So to me, inclusivity and diversity, as a Latina woman, is paramount.” 

The library branch is currently in the midst of a $17.2 million renovation. The money will go to a new plaza, a nutrition and learning lab, an updated children’s section, pieces of public art and an African American collection.

“We are very respectful of the demographics of the area, and we will continue doing that in the Roxbury branch as well,” Arana-Ortiz told the Banner.

The library is currently closed due to the pandemic but may reopen during the summer. The library’s signage, website and book codes will all change to fit the new name.

The BPL Board of Trustees is not the only entity that has eschewed the “Nubian” nomenclature. The former Dudley Square Main Streets organization recently changed its name to Roxbury Main Streets.

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