By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
What began more than eight months ago as a local businessman’s dream will become reality this Saturday, June 18, when the ribbon is cut to formally open the Cornelia Elmore Library Memorial to the public.
The ceremony will take place on the site — next to the barber shop at the intersection of Liberty Street and Martin Luther King Avenue (then Eighth Avenue) — where the first free-standing public library for Atmore’s black population was established in late 1959. It was named after Mrs. Elmore (1868-1958), a highly respected educator and civic leader in Atmore and elsewhere in South Alabama.
The site was just another weed-choked lot, its history hidden in clutter, until James McNeil launched the effort to preserve and commemorate the location and the woman responsible for getting the library built.
The property is owned by Progressive Civic and Recreational Club, of which officials and membership proudly allowed construction of the memorial.
“There’s a lot of history here,” McNeil said, admiring Mrs. Elmore’s name in large gold letters on the memorial’s white-block wall. Solar-powered lights illuminate the site at night, and there are benches on the concrete pad for sitting and reading or meditating.
McNeil said the total cost of the project will be “a little more” than the $25,000 initially projected, mainly due to the rising cost of building materials. But, he pointed out, the community’s response to the project allowed work to continue at a steady pace since ground was broken in November.
“This is a community project,” McNeil said. “A lot of people and a lot of businesses in Atmore made it happen.”
The local businessman said he would try to have a large tent in place to shelter attendees from the summer sun during the morning ceremony, which is set to begin at 10 a.m. and end at noon.
Billy Elmore, Cornelia Elmore’s great-grandson, will deliver the keynote address for the event. His sister, Arralean Fisher Ellis, who lives in northern Virginia, will also be in attendance.
Mrs. Ellis, who was in Atmore for a visit last week, recalled the importance of the library to local black children.
“As a black, you read books and read newspapers,” said the Atmore native, who delivered the Mobile newspaper for most of 10 years as a child. “That was the only communication black people had to learn about what was going on in the rest of the country. You listened to the radio and read the newspaper.”
Atmore Public Library Director Hope Lassiter noted that Cornelia Elmore’s contributions to education and her service to the community cannot be over-estimated.
“Mrs. Cornelia Elmore lived a life of service,” Lassiter said. “Her legacy of making a difference in our community will not be forgotten.”