By Jane Fong
I interviewed Richie Smith as she passed by our signature-gathering table – a long time resident of Berkeley – to discover the reason why the Berkeley Community is signing petitions to rename the South Branch Library in honor of Tarea Hall Pittman, a Civil rights activist of the 20th Century.
Smith arrived in the Bay Area with her parents in 1949, who came to the area to work in the war industry an remained in Berkeley in her own home for the past 30 years.
She has served on the Commission on Aging and is unofficially known as “the Mayor of my community,” she explains. “I attend council meetings and pick up trash.”
Educated in “a one-room school house, then graduating from Berkeley High School, and now a retired Head Start teacher,” she remembers her family listening to Pittman on KRE radio, which was broadcasting from a studio on Ashby Avenue in the 1950s.
“The program was then sponsored by Reeds Records on Sacramento Street. Reeds’ son is still there.” Smith said. “Then it was bought out and transferred to KWBR out of Oakland.”
She remembers that the “program gave information about … church programs, entertainers, and religious music.” Aptly named, “Negroes in the News,” Pittman’s program shared information with the community, “pertinent information pertaining to negroes and current events,” which made for a popular, conversation-evoking family event every Sunday morning, when families gathered around the radio to listen to Pittman, “as we were getting ready to go to church.”
There was a lot of interaction and interest because “people could call in” with comments and questions.
“Pittman was an asset to the community because she was well informed,” said Smith. And she delivered information over the airwaves, “to organize and have a well-informed community. She was a voice for bringing people together,” as they dealt with the issues of “jobs, housing, health, and anything that would have an impact” on their lives.
She wanted to “empower people by enabling them to be well informed. It would be a great tribute to her to have this library named after her because that’s what she was about: informing the community.”
And that, according to Smith, is why community residents should come over to Berkeley’s South Branch Library at Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Russell Street to sign the petition any Sunday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. through December.