By LANDON WOODROOF
After more than three decades of existence, the Brentwood Library looks to be headed for a name change.
City Commissioners signaled support for renaming the institution The John P. Holt Brentwood Library at a briefing this past Thursday in order to abide by the stipulations of a will that will bring the city over $4.2 million in library funding.
At its Wednedsay morning meeting, the city’s Library Board endorsed that name change and appointed a committee of board members to start brainstorming how the huge influx of new funding could best be used. The City Commission will vote to formally enact the name change at its Thursday, Oct. 26 meeting.
O’Delle Holt stated in her will that half the proceeds from the sale of family property on Crockett Road would go to Brentwood after her nephew Charles Witherspoon’s death, provided that the city would either establish or rename a library in honor of her husband, John P. Holt. Witherspoon sold the land in 2016 and passed away in August. The Witherspoon subdivision is currently under construction there.
At its meeting last month, the Library Board had suggested that the city attempt to learn more about John P. Holt before agreeing to name the library after him.
City Commissioner Anne Dunn took umbrage with that idea at last week’s briefing.
“He’s not an unknown quantity in this community,” she said. “He’s not an ancient figure of history.” She noted that Vance Little, the late Brentwood historian, had been well-acquainted with him and that a close relative, Charles Witherspoon, had been alive until recently.
“That would make me very nervous about giving money to Brentwood if I thought that I had lived in this community my whole life and people were going to start digging into my background to see if I was worthy of giving y’all money,” Dunn said.
City Commissioner Betsy Crossley said she had spent some time digging into Holt’s background. She discovered that he was involved with establishing a library in the county and that he had led an active church life.
“I can’t find anything derogatory,” she said.
Mayor Jill Burgin likewise said that she had found nothing troubling about Holt in her research.
“I haven’t heard from anybody who had negative things to say about Mr. Holt and in fact I’ve heard from two neighbors who grew up down the street from him and used to spend time with him in a room full of books,” she said.
Burgin said she doubted that conducting a study looking into his background was necessary considering the evidence that had already been collected about Holt.
Two members of the Friends of the Brentwood Library Board, Wanda Bruce Graham, who is the organization’s current president, and Inetta Gaines, attended the briefing and expressed concern about the ultimate source of the funds that the city would be accepting if it chose to rename the library.
“The one thing you’re forgetting is where most of the funds came from,” Gaines said. “They were slave owners.”
Gaines was not referring to John P. Holt himself, who was born decades after the end of the Civil War, but rather some of his ancestors who lived in the historic Holtland/Wildwood mansion off of Crockett Road back when it was the centerpiece of a 1,200 acre working plantation. Slaves, Graham and Gaines argued, were the ones who built the wealth that had been passed down through generations of the Holt family, so they deserve to be acknowledged if that wealth is used to do something like rename the Brentwood Library.
Gaines and Graham suggested that a plaque be installed at the library that would commemorate the former slaves of the Holt family’s plantation. They offered the following wording: “On the occasion of the renaming of the Brentwood Library to the John P. Holt Brentwood Library, this plaque serves as a memorial to the Enslaved People only known to God on the Holt Plantation that made this generous gift and renaming possible.”
At Wednesday’s Library Board meeting, Assistant City Manager Jay Evans said that decisions related to these concerns as well as to the specific use of the Holt funds would be finalized later on.
“Staff has been thinking over and trying to determine how best to address some of the concerns about the legacy of the land and that kind of thing,” he said. “That would come at a later date, as [would] a discussion that this board would want to have as far as recommending to the City Commission how to set up the trust fund and how those funds would be utilized in the future.”
The Library Board voted unanimously to recommend the name change.
The resolution to formally change the library’s name will likely include language that would allow the city to go ahead and start spending some of the Holt money to make new signs, Evans said.