FORT LAUDERDALE — The African-American Research Library and Cultural Center (ARLCC) began with the dream and vision of one man, Samuel F. Morrison, the former director of Broward County Library, who wanted to build a library by and about African Americans for the Broward community and the world at large.
It was not to be just any library but a state-of-the-art facility for research, life-long learning, community gatherings, cultural events and technology training. Morrison believed in his vision enough to inspire an entire community to follow his dream, no matter how difficult the struggle.
In 1996, funds were already earmarked for the construction of a library in Fort Lauderdale’s Sistrunk Boulevard area to replace the Von D. Mizell Branch Library but the planned structure — a small branch library — was a far cry from the major research facility, cultural center and historical archives that Morrison imagined.
When approached in 1995 about more money to build a bigger, better library, the Broward County Commission pledged both the land, located on Northwest 27th Avenue and Sistrunk Boulevard, and $5 million, which was $7 million short of the projected $14 million it would take to build the proposed new African-American Research Library and Cultural Center.
Instead of being discouraged, Morrison was determined. The best plan of action, he felt, was to take the grassroots approach, involving the community in the drive to make this dream a reality. The race to raise the additional millions was on and fundraising efforts began.
By casting a wide net throughout the community, the fundraising committee for the proposed institution was able to garner donations from members of the corporate world, the church community, civic organizations and individuals. Fraternities, sororities, and service clubs donated. A $1 million gift from businessman/philanthropist Wayne Huizenga upped the ante and encouraged other businesses to contribute.
Fundraising events such as a benefit dinner/birthday party for Morrison were held, raising even more cash. Grants were applied for and won. The end of fundraising and the beginning of construction was now in sight.
Now that fundraising goals were being met, it was time for action. Contractors, architects and designers were assessed; a committee of local African-American artists was formed for the purpose of adding artistic input. Nationally renowned interior designer Cecil Hayes was hired to give the building’s interior an Afro-centric character and PAWA Complex International, an architectural and design firm headed by Nigerian-born Emmanuel Nwadike, won the design contract.
For inspiration, architects and engineers with PAWA walked the streets and business districts of Ghana and toured West African castles where slaves were held before they were shipped to America. The design of the building would reflect the art and images of Africa: Kente cloth-like paintings on the façade, ornate poles of carved wooden faces and figurines to greet guests in the lobby.
Meanwhile, the important goal of obtaining material for the library’s special collections was being attained, one item at a time. The family of actress Esther Rolle donated a collection of her personal possessions, historic items such as documents relating to the Civil Rights Movement and evidence of her professional and personal achievements.
The Alex Haley Collection came complete with eight unfinished manuscripts by the author, as well as photos and memorabilia from the Roots mini-series.
Additional historic collections include the Council of Elders Collection which preserves the oral history and tradition of Broward County’s African-American pioneers, the Sixto Campano Sheet Music Collection and the Dorothy Porter Wesley Collection which includes art, women’s studies and reference books related to Africans in the United States, Africa, Brazil and the Caribbean.
On Oct. 26, 2002, after almost six years of dreaming and planning, the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center celebrated its dedication and grand opening.
The ceremony featured a procession of Ghanaian chiefs and elders, speeches by elected officials, including Democratic Congressman Alcee L. Hastings of District 23, Democratic Congressman John Lewis of District 5 in Georgia and guest speaker Lerone Bennett Jr., executive editor of Ebony magazine. There were also performances by Florida Memorial College Steel Pan Band and the Ebohon International Theatre Troupe.
Since its opening eight years and a few months ago, the AARLCC has become a valued member of the Fort Lauderdale community. AARLCC is a comfortable place to do scholarly research on African-American culture and history, go surfing on the Internet, get free homework help, check out videos and books, attend children’s programs, browse through the art gallery, get assistance with credit repair and tax help, experience stage productions with singing and dancing, read a magazine or a newspaper, learn how to use a computer, meet local authors, attend seminars and lectures, meet up with friends, and much more.
The second floor of AARLCC has a separate youth wing with an activity room and computers for children. And, just like any other library in the Broward County Library system, AARLCC has a collection of books, videos and music available for checkout. But, unlike the other libraries, AARLCC has a higher percentage of African-American books, videos and music, including material you will not easily find in other libraries.
And then there is the Special Collections vault of AARLCC which houses rare editions of books, newspapers, artwork, memorabilia, music, videos, etc., relating to the African Diaspora.
This feature was provided by the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center.