By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Atmore’s public library was established in 1923, in two upstairs rooms of the Bank of Atmore building on North Main Street. Over the years, the book repository was located in numerous places before finding its permanent home on East Church Street.
The first library that was primarily for the city’s black population was established in 1954, in an enclosed gazebo on the campus of Escambia County Training School, on Eighth Avenue (now Martin Luther King Drive).
After slightly more than five years there, the Cornelia Elmore Library was established on a lot next to the intersection of Eighth Avenue (MLK) and Liberty Street. It was named after Cornelia Elmore (1868-1958), a highly respected educator and civic leader in South Alabama.
Now, more than 63 years after that library began operations, a local businessman has launched an effort to preserve and commemorate the location of the first free-standing library building for Atmore citizens of color, as well as the woman responsible for getting the library built.
The property is owned by Progressive Civic and Recreational Club, and James McNeil said the membership was more than glad to approve the project.
“PCRC owns the lot, and I had to get their permission to do this,” McNeil said. “The club’s president, Herbert Payne, signed off on it, and he got all the members to sign, giving me permission to go on this property and do this.”
McNeil said his plan included more than just a historical marker.
“There’s a lot of history there,” he said, sweeping his arm over the empty lot. “I want to put a concrete slab over most of the lot. I want to put up lights and have a chain link fence down both sides. In the back, I plan to put stuccoed concrete blocks, with Cornelia Elmore’s name in big letters.
“I want it to be nice; it’s not going be just thrown together. There will be seats where folks can come and have lunch or rest for a while. It’s going to be really nice.”
McNeil said the total cost of the project will be “somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000.” Although there are grants available, he hopes the funding will come from those who enjoyed the library in its infancy, as well as individuals and businesses who want to better the community and remember its past.
“I want to try and do it without grants,” he said. “As far as the average person, whatever they want to give will help.”
To donate, send a check or money order to United Bank, P.O. Box 8, Atmore, AL 36504. Note that the funds are for the James McNeil Library Fund. Deposits to the account may be made in person at the bank, also.
McNeil said he already has commitments of cash or in-kind contributions from several local businesses, including Marvin’s, United Bank, Johnson Ford, First National Bank & Trust, Alfa Insurance and Pepsi.
He added that he couldn’t provide a timetable for the project until the financial support began rolling in.
“That’s hard to say until we get some money in that account,” he explained. “If the money comes in right, it might go fast; if the money does not come in, it will be a slow process. I know God will bless us.”