By Micha Green
Sometimes when Washingtonians speak out and up on an issue in one accord, bigwig businessmen like Jeff Bezos listen — as was the case after many D.C. residents protested the Amazon founder’s name being on the auditorium of the District’s newly remodeled Martin Luther King Jr. Library. Bezos donated big bucks, which is why his name was first thrown out for the auditorium’s title, but once Washingtonians clapped back, the entrepreneur announced that the late, great, writer Toni Morrison should instead be honored.
In March 2017, it was announced the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library would close for three years to undergo a “complete modernization. With a COVID delay, the doors opened again to the public in September 2021. On January 26, it was announced that MLK Library Executive Director Richard Reyes-Galivan and the library system’s Board of Trustees had decided to name the auditorium after Bezos due to a $2.7 million donation he made for a children’s literacy program, according to The Washington Post. It should also be noted Bezos owns The Washington Post.
When the news dropped that the newly remodeled library’s auditorium was to be named in Bezos’s honor, Washingtonians were none too pleased, and local activists raised their voices.
“The MLK Library Friends wish to register their objection — in the strongest possible terms — to naming the auditorium of the Martin Luther King Memorial Library for Jeff Bezos, under a proposal from Head Librarian Richard Reyes-Galivan passed by the Board of Trustees. The naming should not have been approved and must be rescinded,” the MLK Library Friends wrote in a statement on Feb. 3.
“We think the Trustees knew the proposal was inappropriate and chose to downplay it,” according to the statement. “No discussion took place, although it was duly called for by Chair Monte Mona’s. The proposal was not shared on screen as other documents had been. The name Bezos was at no point heard nor seen by attendees such as myself (who were muted anyway),” the MLK Library Friends continued.
Thousands of District residents joined in a letter writing campaign to request Reyes-Galivan and the Board of Trustees reconsider.
“To name any part of the MLK Library in honor of Jeff Bezos is disrespectful to the legacy of Dr. King and would also cause hurt and harm to D.C.’s Black community. Bezos is on a world tour to launder his reputation and the MLK Library should have no part in it,” wrote Harriet’s Wildest Dreams, who sponsored the letter writing campaign.
As of Feb. 7, more than 18,900 letters had been submitted.
“We are thrilled that Jeff Bezos has recommended that the MLK auditorium be named for Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison,” Reyes-Galivan said to The Washington Post. “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.”
While Washingtonians are happy that the auditorium will be named after the celebrated author, some are still unimpressed by Bezos.
“The fact that Bezos said ‘nah name the MLK library auditorium after Toni Morrison, not me,’ is a prime example of the enemy studying you so much that they know just what to say to quell rebellion,” wrote one Twitter user.
“They are admitting it was wrong without accepting responsibility,” social media user Alex Dodds wrote.
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