The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library Credit: Darrow Montgomery/FILE

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If you zoned out early on Friday, you might have missed this win for local activists involving the D.C. Public Library Foundation and one of the wealthiest men in the world. As the Washington Post first reported, after lots of backlash, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos asked the DCPLF to name the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library’s main auditorium after the late Toni Morrison instead of Bezos. A “No Bezos Auditorium at MLK Library” letter-writing campaign, sponsored by nonprofit Harriet’s Wildest Dreams alongside Justice for Muslims Collective and La ColectiVA, had turned out 18,759 letters worth of opposition as of Monday.  

Morrison, the first Black woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature, was “a dear friend” of Bezos as well as “a remarkable woman and a legendary, groundbreaking author,” according to an email from the billionaire Thursday night. DCPL Executive Director Richard Reyes-Gavilan, who first proposed naming the auditorium after Bezos when the billionaire donated $2.7 million to fund a children’s literacy program called Beyond the Book, changed course after Bezos’ email.

“We are thrilled that Jeff Bezos has recommended that the MLK auditorium be named for Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison,” said Reyes-Gavilan in a statement. “We could not think of a better individual to be honored in our beautiful new building. We look forward to reaching out to the Morrison family for their support.”

In his email requesting Morrison as the namesake, Bezos cited how “some in the community have suggested a person of color would be more appropriate as a name for the auditorium, especially as it sits inside the Martin Luther King Jr. library. That makes considerable sense to me.” But, as the Post points out, activists behind the letter-writing campaign opposing the decision to name the auditorium after Bezos didn’t mention race, only the gap between Bezos’ concentrated wealth and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision for economic equity. Bezos didn’t mention this or other major rationale for opposition to him as the auditorium’s namesake. He also didn’t apologize to the community for initially accepting the DCPLF board’s vote in what some activists and local officials considered offensive and damaging.

Instead, Bezos reminisced about sitting on Morrison’s porch for hours swapping stories over lunch and vodka with the mentor and former professor of his ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott, on a warm afternoon. But not all reception to the news is as warm and fuzzy. Some D.C. activists maintain that the decision to name the auditorium after Toni Morrison, while appropriate, should have come from the community, not from Bezos, a billionaire with tenuous ties to the District.

“Toni Morrison’s name being on that library, … that’s a name that truly honors the legacy of Dr. King,” said Nee Nee Taylor of Harriet’s Wildest Dreams. “Yet the process of how that was developed is still hurtful and harmful to the community of D.C.”

In Other News …

For part of Saturday, a section of DC-295 was closed for the investigation of what D.C. police originally reported as a stabbing death. An autopsy later revealed that while the victim, Passion Pleasant, 32, was both stabbed and shot, her gunshot wounds were the cause of death. Pleasant was found just outside her vehicle at about 11:15 a.m. on the Anacostia Freeway. After the investigation, 30-year-old Gregory Johnson of Southeast D.C. was arrested and charged with second degree murder while armed, according to the Metropolitan Police Department. Police said the crime “was domestic in nature.”

In Other, Other News … 

On Sunday, residents of Ridgecrest condos in Southeast were forced to leave their homes after only a few days’ notice, WUSA9 reports. A notice placed on residents’ doors on Wednesday notified them there was a lack of required utilities, including electricity and heat. Broken windows, doors in disrepair, and leaky pipes created an uninhabitable environment for more than a year, according to former resident Liane Scott. Scott has owned a Ridgecrest unit for 27 years and is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Ridgecrest Condo Association President Marcus Little over the conditions. In 2020 Little faced another lawsuit over alleged housing code violations. The notices Ridgecrest residents received last week had a strict deadline for residents to leave but no clear date to return. Residents told WUSA9 the city was covering a 15-day hotel stay but no more than that.

Ambar Castillo (tips? acastillo@washingtoncitypaper.com)

NOTE: In a previous post, Richard Reyes-Gavilan was incorrectly cited as the executive director of the D.C. Public Library Foundation; he is executive director of the D.C. Public Library.

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