Designs unveiled for new North Charleston library

Renderings for the new R. Keith Summey North Charleston Library were unveiled on Monday.

So, some folks are opposed to naming the new North Charleston library after Mayor Keith Summey.

Didn’t have to be Nostradamus to see this coming. The only surprise is that it took a year for the grousing to begin.

Charleston County is replacing the old Cooper River Memorial Library as part of a $108 million bond issue overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2014. And last year, some County Council members decided the North Charleston library’s name — dedicated to fallen World War II soldiers — was too vague.

They chose to rename the new facility in honor of the city’s longtime, and current, mayor.

Now some residents are circulating a petition asking the county to reconsider. They say it’s inappropriate to name a public building, especially a library, after a politician. Some people don’t believe anything should be named after any living person.

Although this minor crusade is going nowhere, disgruntled citizens are welcome to register their complaints with members of Charleston County Council.

They meet in the Beverly T. Craven Council Chambers, which is on the second floor of the Lonnie Hamilton III Public Services Building.

You know, that big place just down the street from the W.O. Thomas Jr. Boat Landing and the Al Cannon Detention Center.

Really local figure

Mayor Summey didn’t ask anyone to name a library after him.

He says he had no advance warning of this honor and, if they were going to name it after any Summey, he would have preferred they chose his wife, Deborah — a long-time local educator.

In fact, some of the people closest to him were reluctant to go along with the name change for this very reason. They knew people would gripe and use the occasion to say nasty things about him.

But honestly, the council — despite its numerous political ties to Summey — has all the justification it needs.

Summey is rightfully credited with building modern North Charleston. He took a poor city that was long the butt of too many jokes and turned it into one of this state’s biggest economic generators. He will long be remembered as a pivotal figure in the city’s history, as he should be.

Unfortunately, his efforts to revitalize the area around this soon-to-be-built library haven’t gotten off the ground. The neighborhood has foundered since the Naval Base closed in 1993, and conditions continue to deteriorate.

Summey can’t even get a grocery store to locate in the neighborhood. But he’s tried, and there’s no question he wants to improve the area.

Fact is, he is a product of the city’s southern end. When the Summey family first moved to North Charleston, they settled in Union Heights and the future mayor went to Chicora High School.

So even though the county library system has no other branches named for living people, it’s hard to argue with the council’s decision here.

Summey is about as local as it gets.

Name of the game

A lot of cities and states have a firm policy against naming roads, bridges or buildings after the living.

That's not unreasonable. No one wants to end up naming, say, an assessor’s office after some guy who is later convicted of tax evasion.

But there’s no guarantee that waiting will make things any better. Just ask Clemson University, which is still getting grief over Tillman Hall — and ye olde racist Ben Tillman has been dead a century as of this year.

Even the United States Senate is still dealing with this. Some senators have proposed renaming the Russell Senate Office Building in honor of John McCain. Which isn’t a bad idea since its namesake, former Georgia Sen. Richard Russell Jr., was a notorious segregationist and Dixiecrat.

People can complain about the new library’s name, and they will, but their concerns won't carry much weight.

Summey says the important thing here is that a neighborhood in North Charleston in desperate need of improvement and economic development is getting a new library.

"The naming is not an issue with me," the mayor says. "The building of the library is foremost."

Let's hope it is as successful in transforming the community as Summey has been with most of North Charleston.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.