At Monday’s unveiling of the final sculptures celebrating the historic role African Americans played in Harrisburg, the Dauphin County Library System received the honor of being asked to continue the project’s message of understanding and cultural diversity.
In response, The Library announced the “T. Morris Chester Welcome Center” will occupy the central location of the planned expansion of the McCormick Riverfront Library. The $3.5 million project includes connecting the adjacent 5,458-square-foot residence of Sara Haldeman Haly, whose bequest in 1896 seeded the Dauphin County Library System.
“The Library’s core mission is to promote understanding and equality through education, and we are humbled that the Commonwealth Monument Project’s organizers picked us to carry the torch,” said Karen Cullings, The Library’s executive director. “Thomas Morris Chester is a shining example of those we want to recognize.”
T. Morris Chester, one of the statues unveiled today, recruited Black troops to help defend Harrisburg in 1863 when the Confederacy drew near. He was also the Civil War’s only African American war correspondent.
“We are truly touched by the trust those behind the Commonwealth Monument have placed in The Library, and we promise to live up to the responsibility,” said La-Verna Fountain, a member of The Library’s Board of Trustees. “We call ourselves ‘Your Place to Belong’ because we are committed to inclusion and acceptance.”
The Library has previously worked with the Commonwealth Monument organizers on programs highlighting Harrisburg’s Old Eighth Ward, where the Capitol complex now stands. More recently, The Library’s locations have set up “Knowledge Promotes Understanding” displays at all locations featuring books and information about social and racial justice.
“At Riverfront and our other seven locations, as well as online, we provide resources and programs for children and adults and assist those of all ages with access to the digital world,” Cullings said. “Above all, we want to make sure that all we do reflects the backgrounds and cultures of those in our community.”
Cullings said the collaboration announcement was further strengthened by the recent news that the McCormick expansion project received a substantial Keystone Recreation Park and Conservation Fund grant through the state’s Office of Commonwealth Libraries and Department of Education.
“This critical funding gives us the means of delivering on our promise to carry the monument’s mission forward,” Cullings said. “Downtown Harrisburg is changing in many positive ways at the same time that 44 percent of its children are in households below the poverty level. The demand for our services has never been greater or more diverse.”
For more information and to support this project please visit dcls.org/YourPlace.