Nashville Public Library officials have told Nashville’s chapter of Black Lives Matter that meetings that welcome only people of color can’t take place inside the city’s libraries.
That decision has outraged members of Black Lives Matter, who say the library canceled all future meetings the group had organized for later this month.
But library officials say they’re simply enforcing a library policy that says all meetings at their facilities must be open to the general public and news media.
“The library didn’t cancel anyone’s meeting,” said library spokeswoman Emily Waltenbaugh, referring to a Black Lives Matter meeting for Saturday morning that the organization has now rescheduled for a church instead.
“We’re a library,” she said. “We’re taxpayer funded. We have to be open to anyone anytime.”
For the past few months, Black Lives Matter in Nashville has held its chapter meetings at the North Branch Library in North Nashville.
According to Joshua Crutchfield, an organizer of the Nashville chapter of Black Lives Matter, the group has a rule: Only black people as well as non-black people of color are allowed to attend the gatherings. That means white people are excluded from attending.
An individual complained this week to the library system about the Black Lives Matter policy, prompting a library employee to inform the group that events excluding groups of people can’t be held inside Nashville libraries. As a result, the group plans to have its meeting Saturday morning at Dixon Memorial United Methodist Church in North Nashville.
“Due to white supremacy in our local government, this week’s BLM General Body Meeting location has changed,” a notice posted Friday on the Nashville chapter of Black Lives Matter’s Facebook page reads. The notice says the group’s meetings are “open to black and non-black people of color only.”
“We were surprised about it, but we shouldn’t have been,” Crutchfield told The Tennessean of the library’s decision. “We kind of know the history about how this goes in this country. … It’s definitely something we want to make public to tell people what’s going on in the city.”
Sean Braisted, spokesman for Mayor Megan Barry, said the library system has a policy and that it enforced it properly.
“The issue doesn’t have anything to do with the politics (of Black Lives Matter),” he said. “It’s simply a matter of an open-door, open-meeting policy, and that’s what the library has adhered to.”Waltenbaugh stressed that the library didn’t cancel the group’s meeting, but rather alerted Black Lives Matter that the library system’s policy calls for all meetings to be open to the general public. She said the group then chose to move to a new location.
A recent complaint from a library patron, who had seen advertising about the upcoming meeting and felt excluded, alerted the library staff to Black Lives Matter’s policy, according to Waltenbaugh. She said the library hadn’t previously been aware of the group’s rule.
Waltenbaugh said the Nashville Public Library system is committed to civil rights, noting that it has an entire department devoted to the topic. She also pointed out the Nashville Public Library downtown has twice held recent screenings of a film by director Stanley Nelson on the Black Panthers movement.
Leaders of Nashville’s chapter of Black Lives Matter say the group’s meeting policy to allow only people of color is important.
“The Nashville Chapter of BLM has this policy in place to center the voices and experiences of people of color that have historically been excluded or segregated within supposedly public spaces,” a statement from the organization reads.
The statement goes on to argue that spaces for only people of color are “often questioned and viewed with suspicion, though there is seldom any interrogation of white-only board rooms and staffs.”
“However, we view these spaces as integral to healing and community building, particularly to those who have experienced racialized violence and ardently maintain this policy as imperative to the work and mission of BLM.”