I rarely make it down to the Southside these days, but my goal to visit the libraries forced me to make the trip to 115th street on January 9th. I started out at the gym, but forgot how political it is down there! I walked into the sauna and was greeted with a lively political discussion. After the expected pleas for me, the new comer, to choose a side, the conversation subdued; but not before the appeals to every politician in the area. Everyone seems to know someone on the Southside. The conversation was ripe with name dropping and the promises to visit some local or state politician or another. Eventually, I was left alone with an older gentleman who took it upon himself to educate me about the problems of police brutality, the prison system, and a plethora of other city issues. As I left, I googled the nearest public library and headed over to Morgan Park.
Driving through Morgan Park is somewhat of an other-worldly experience. The crammed buildings of the city, the three-flats, the bungalows, and the narrow one-way streets all but disappear there. The homes are enormous. The architecture is eloquent. The yards go on forever. Churches dot the neighborhood. Every building seems to have “Saint So-and-So” written on it. Soon enough, I finally stumbled upon the George C. Walker branch. This branch is quite unique with is Romanesque style architecture, the walls of which, according to the Chicago Public Library, are the oldest owned by the library system. The brick face adds a somewhat stately feeling to the building. The inside is very comfortable, with old carpet and little nooks in which you can tuck yourself away. There were many people there working on various tasks. Students from nearby schools eventually filtered in and took up the computers. A number of people sat to read the newspapers. A local professor met with a student to fill out certification papers—for what, I don’t know. As I had already observed while driving, the community area seems to be incredible parish driven. The youth and adults alike were overheard talking about “Saint So-and-So” school. It was nice, though, to see the space so well utilized. The building was an iconic library: tomes of books with a scholarly vibe.
I had to do a little digging about who, exactly, George Walker was. I have heard the name before, at the University of Chicago where another building with his namesake houses the Department of English. Apparently, as the UChicago Library notes, Walker was a trustee for the old University of Chicago which was a Baptist university. After that school went bankrupt, Walker offered land in Morgan Park to found a new university, though U of C settled in Hyde Park. He became a trustee of the second University of Chicago and advocated for the sciences. With a lifelong commitment to education and knowledge, how appropriate is it that his legacy continues open access in the form of the library?