By Dustin Brown
In 1969, the Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center opened on Northern Boulevard following a passionate and adamant campaign by civic leaders to create a local center for black thought.
Six days after what would have been the 100th birthday of its literary namesake, the library’s first director, Borough President Helen Marshall, celebrated Black History Month by honoring the contributions of five present-day community leaders and awarding scholarships to three promising high school students.
The award recipients included one politician and two civic leaders, a tenant activist and a newspaper publisher. The students boasted interests that range from opera to occupational therapy to education. But as they gathered last Thursday evening with dozens of supporters on the 50th floor of the Citibank tower in Long Island City, their accomplishments were seen together for their combined impact on the borough.
At the centerpiece remained Hughes, a prolific author whose place in the library title symbolized the contributions he made to black thought with five decades of writing, which ended only at his death in 1967.
“We in Corona named the first thing after Langston Hughes,” Marshall recalled before presenting her awards. “People came from all over the world to see what we were doing.”
William Jefferson, the recipient of the Civic Achievement Award and founder of the United Black Men of Queens County, remembered a more recent milestone in the history of the Langston Hughes library — the opening of a brand new building two blocks down from the original site.
“I was never prouder than the day we walked from the old building to the new building,” Jefferson said.
Marshall handed a Lifetime Achievement Award to former City Councilman Archie Spigner (D-St. Albans), whom she described as “the author and the funder” of “all the things that have happened in southeast Queens.”
Cornelia Taylor, a tenant leader from the Rockaways who received the Borough President’s Special Recognition Award, said Spigner is “like an old strong mule — you can’t discourage him.”
Marshall had kind words of her own to say about Taylor.
“With the cane in her hand, she walks a lot faster than a lot of young people with good healthy legs — and does 10 times the work,” she said.
In awarding a Business Achievement Award to Victoria Schneps, the publisher of the Queens Courier newspapers, Marshall stressed the importance of weekly newspapers in keeping track of borough events.
“If you want to know about Queens, you’ve got to read our weeklies,” Marshall said.
As she accepted the Arts Achievement Award, former borough Cultural Affairs Director Aida Gonzalez-Jarrin described her experience in working with the county’s diverse people and organizations as “something that enriched my life.”
She also turned her attention to Marshall, the first black borough president in Queens, when she congratulated voters “for selecting an African American, an enlightened woman, a teacher, for our borough president.”
Scholarships were awarded to Eboni Jones and Charisse Mills, seniors at the Humanities and the Arts Magnet High School, and Vinnée Perry, a senior at John Bowne High School.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.