Panel OKs Naming Library Children’s Room for Harrigan

Africah Harrigan: Granddaughter to Beulah Harrigan, Africah Harrigan, provides testimony during the a hearing of the Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation, and Aging.q
Africah Harrigan: Granddaughter to Beulah Harrigan, Africah Harrigan, provides testimony during the a hearing of the Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation, and Aging.

A Senate committee voted Friday to name the children’s room at the Charles Wesley Turnbull Regional Library in memory of Beulah Smith Harrigan, a longtime educator and librarian in the territory who died in 2011.

The proposal now moves on to the Senate Committee on Rules and the Judiciary before it is is voted on by the full Senate.

Harrigan’s family testified during Friday’s meeting of the Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation, and Aging hearing, where the honor was discussed.

“To the world, she was Beulah Monica Smith Harrigan. However, she was affectionately called granny amongst her family members. Granny was kind, loving, caring, and a strong believer that a book is a friend. Her unrelenting love for books led to her many storytellings,” granddaughter Africah Harrigan said.

Sen. Myron Jackson, who sponsored the bill, said he felt it was important to honor someone who has given so much to our children through literacy. Many times librarians, archivists, and artists are undervalued in the community, he said.

But Nadine Marchena Kean, another granddaughter of Beulah, said her grandmother was well loved by the community and when people heard about potentially naming the children’s room after Beulah, Kean received messages from admirers across the territory and United States.

Kean said her grandmother saw the value of being a happy person and her impact on others was most significant. Over the years, Kean said, she has heard countless stories from Beulah’s former students who loved her grandmother.

“People would encounter me in the streets and talk about her even before she passed away,” she said.

The testifiers all said Beulah’s appetite for books and knowledge was insatiable and she was known for picking up a book and reading it all in one sitting.

Africah recalled a memory of a time when she and her siblings were younger that demonstrated Beulah’s love of literacy.

“Granny would ask us, ‘What book are you reading today? Did you travel the world? Did you solve any mysteries? Or what adventures did you encounter in your book?’ After filling our tummies with something delicious to eat … we would gather around the living room, while granny sat in her rocking chair telling us a story,” Africah said.

Beulah graduated from Charlotte Amalie High School in 1942, had five children of her own, and treasured reading to children at the Enid M. Baa Public Library.

“For those of us at a particular age, Mrs. Harrigan was a storyteller … on any given day you could pass the library and see Mrs. Harrigan within the children’s library engaging the children of St. Thomas/ St. John District,” Jackson said.

Daughter of Beulah, Ruqayyah Nicholas, who could not attend the hearing but provided testimony, wrote that her mother “instilled the love of books and the value of reading to thousands of children who were fortunate enough to cross her path during her tenure as a librarian in the children’s room of the downtown library in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.”

Nicholas said the children’s room of the library was a vibrant hub of learning in a time before computers.

She thanked her mom for teaching her and so many others “to travel the world through the pages of a book, to live in times past through the historical and biographical experiences of others, to imagine what could be through the realm of science fiction, to appreciate and value our culture and to continually seek knowledge, and finally to dream. But not only dream, but to pursue and live our dreams.”

All seven senators voted to move the bill to the Rules and Judiciary Committee. Senators who were present for this vote were Sens. Jackson, Alicia Barnes, Oakland Benta, Dwayne DeGraff, Javan James Sr., Steven Payne Jr., and Athneil Thomas.

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