Billie Jean King at Wimbleton

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

When Long Beach’s new Main Library opens in the fall, it will bear the name of one of the city’s most famous natives.

The City Council voted unanimously at its Tuesday, July 23 meeting to name the building the Billie Jean King Main Library.

Much love and admiration was expressed for the tennis star, social justice icon and Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree during the meeting.

David Ochoa said the honor would be well-deserved. He said King was a personal hero of his and his mother’s. King showed the world, he said, “a woman can do anything a man can do — and sometimes, she can do it better.”

“If there’s anyone in Long Beach who deserves” the Main Library to be named after them, Ochoa said, “it’s Billie Jean King, because her influence spreads beyond Long Beach’s boundaries. It spreads across the country, to women everywhere across this country.”

The decision, however, wasn’t without its detractors. Some residents, like retired librarian Susan Taylor, said during public comment they thought the library should be named after someone more connected with advancing literacy.

Taylor suggested someone like Blanche Collins, a longtime Long Beach librarian who led a successful fight against censorship in the 1960s, might be more appropriate.

“If it wasn’t for her, books would be banned from all public libraries nationwide,” Taylor said.

Others, however, said the library branch should remain unaffiliated with any specific person.

“I have nothing but admiration for Billie Jean King,” Long Beach resident and former Harbor Commissioner Carmen Perez said. “I’m here tonight to ask you to think this through. This building belongs to all. It belongs to the city of Long Beach, the citizens of Long Beach. It should bear our name: the Long Beach Main Library.”

But the many people who spoke in favor of naming the library after King, citing the example she provides to all of Long Beach’s residents, won out.

Porter Gilberg, the executive director of the LGBTQ Center of Long Beach, was among those who supported the decision.

“As an LGBTQ organization, it is incredibly important for us to note that visibility for LGBTQ people, and important LGBTQ historical figures, is important to our community,” Gilberg said.

“I know I did not have the opportunity to visit a library named after an openly LGBTQ person as a child,” Gilberg added, “and nor did the children who taunted me. So I think we have a really tremendous opportunity here to create some more good in our city."

While sharing his support for the vote, Mayor Robert Garcia noted King’s fight for Title IX, which expanded women’s access to education and sports nationwide. In that way, he said, naming a library for her couldn’t be more fitting.

“Her work on Title IX is exactly directed and exactly connected to the future of education in our country,” Garcia said. “Hundreds of thousands of young girls in the city of Long Beach have had access to a college education, had access to sports at universities across the country, because once Title IX was implemented, the world of sports an education were opened up to women.”

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