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A moving story that began more than six decades ago had a very happy ending on Sunday, March 21, 2010. Supporters, residents, friends and family of Marian Wright Edelman gathered in Bennettsville, South Carolina to honor Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) an organization — which through her vision and guidance — has long been recognized as the most powerful and eloquent voice speaking on behalf of the nation's children. On that day, The Marian Wright Edelman Public Library of Marlboro County opened its doors.
Even as a little girl, Marian Wright Edelman dearly loved to read — a value promoted by her parents. But, growing up in Bennettsville, during the dark and difficult days of segregation, she was not welcome in the local library. Now, life has come full circle for that little girl. Marlboro County celebrated the opening of a critically-needed, state-of-the-art public library in this deeply impoverished region of South Carolina; and this visionary community's inspired choice to name it The Marian Wright Edelman Public Library recognizes the life and work of their native daughter. And, to these citizens, it is significant that the sign at the entrance reads, "WELCOME TO EVERYONE".
Mrs. Edelman cannot contain her joy when she speaks about the library. "It is a beautiful, welcoming, place, filled with light. It will reach out its arms to the children of this community; and the books and music and state-of-the-art technology will make it a true learning center for everyone…Marlboro County's gateway to the world. The fact that the people in the place where I was born and grew up with have honored me in this way means more to me than I can possibly say."
Her sentiments about the library were echoed by the Chair of the Marlboro County Library Board. "Our dream — at long last — has become a reality," said Patricia Henegan, She went on to say, "it's been more than 10 long years filled with inspiring moments and, I have to admit, a few discouraging set-backs. But, we never stopped dreaming and we were determined not to give up hope. And now we have this wonderful library that will have an enormous impact on the lives of our citizens — particularly our young people. It lifts my spirits to see it standing there."
Retired Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Bank of America, Hugh McColl, Jr., himself a Bennettsville, South Carolina native, was also on hand and served as Honorary Chairman of the Library campaign. "Marian Wright Edelman is a remarkable woman…a shining example of how one person can truly make a difference," McColl said. "Through her untiring leadership at the Children's Defense Fund, she has given a voice to the children of America. The Marian Wright Edelman Public Library will stand as an enduring tribute to her and a symbol of community progress in the hometown we share," he added.
Although Marlboro County has changed in racial attitudes since Edelman grew up there, the county still is mostly rural and poor. For the past 110 years, the population has been about 30,000 — give or take a thousand or two.
For more than a year, the county's unemployment rate has been at or above 20 percent, and it historically has one of the state's highest jobless rates.
More than 90 percent of the county's public school students live in poverty, meaning they qualify for free or reduced-price meals. The schools are rated at-risk, which is the lowest rating on South Carolina's education report cards.
Edelman said she hopes the new library can help improve those statistics.
"I just hope, in five years, that this can be the beginning of our making Marlboro County the best school system in the state," she said.
For further information about the library or to make on-line contributions for the library's future programs and services, please visit the web site at: www.marianwrightedelmanlibrary.org.