Billie Jean King at Wimbleton

Tennis legend Billie Jean King, right, gestures towards former Wimbledon champion Ann Jones Saturday after being introduced to the crowd on Centre Court during day six of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London.

By a unanimous 7-0 vote on Tuesday evening, the Long Beach City Council moved forward on the renaming of the new Main Library downtown as the Billie Jean King Main Library. The two missing votes were councilwoman Suzie Price, who was not present, and the currently vacant First District seat, left open after Lena Gonzalez’s election to the State Senate.

With the approval of the City Council, the proposal now goes to the Housing and Neighborhoods Committee for consideration and further input from the public. If that committee approves the proposal, it will return to the City Council in the coming weeks for a final discussion and vote.

“The library is going to be the crown jewel of our new Civic Center,” said Mayor Robert Garcia. “No one from Long Beach has been more impactful, no one has done more for our country than Billie Jean King... She is a legend in her sport, and an incredible advocate for gender and LGBTQ issues.”

Garcia pointed out that King is the only Long Beach native to ever receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor that can be bestowed on an American citizen. Garcia and others also spoke of King’s importance to the passage of Title IX, which she advocated for in Washington.

The proposal was made by Second District Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce and co-sponsored by Councilmen Al Austin (Eighth), Rex Richardson (Ninth) and Dee Andrews (Sixth), the latter of whom was a classmate of King’s at Long Beach Poly. Andrews recalled King trying to convince him and fellow Poly football star Willie Brown to give tennis a try, which he now regrets turning down.

“No one from Long Beach has done more for equality than Billie Jean King,” Andrews said.

There was a large crowd on hand for the public comment section related to the item. In favor of the renaming were several members of the Long Beach sports community, including a large showing from the Century Club. Cathy Jacobson-Guzy, contractor for the Long Beach Parks, Recreation and Marine’s tennis programs, spoke forcefully about the impact of King beyond tennis. Several members of the LGBTQ community also spoke in favor of the renaming.

Several council members and the public pointed to King’s pivotal role in passage of Title IX, giving women equal access to sports in schools, as well as pushing for equality on the professional level. Others pointed to her advocacy for the gay community after identifying as a lesbian.

The idea to name the library after King came to the forefront during a request by Pearce for naming suggestions, a period during which she said nearly 1,000 people reached out in favor of naming the library after King, with about 30 people reaching out to request that the library remain simply the Main Library, and a few people reaching out in favor of other names.

Some representatives from the Friends of the Library were on hand to request that the council leave the library name as the Main Library, citing potential confusion about whether the building would be perceived as a branch library or the Main Library, and questioning her non-sports credentials.

Councilman Austin said he sees the renaming opportunity as a chance to bring even greater awareness to Long Beach’s award-winning library system.

“We sometimes forget about our weight class as a city,” he said. “This is a chance to do something really special.”

The library is set to be opened on Sept. 21, and Pearce said that if the city goes ahead with renaming it for King, she would be present for the ceremony. Pearce also indicated a donation to the library would be forthcoming.

In a letter from King to the City Council, King wrote of how important the Dana, Harte, and Burnett libraries were to her childhood.

“It is deeply humbling to have my name in consideration for the naming of the Main Library,” she wrote. “This honor would represent my life coming full circle, and my complete belief of having a common place for the community, where all are equally welcome and have access to visit, learn, and grow.”

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