The Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday approved a special-use permit for the establishment of a private library dedicated to the study of African-American history in a residential neighborhood in Sedalia.
Sedalia psychologist Marge Harlan and her husband, Jerry, applied for the permit to establish the library on Lima Alley, in the home of Democrat columnist, author and historian Rose Nolen.
The Harlans intend to exercise a purchase option for Nolen’s home, along with four neighboring properties along North Ohio Avenue and East Cooper Street, and convert it into a library and study center after the City Council votes on the permit application.
During a public hearing on the permit application, the Harlans said the proposed center, called the Rose M. Nolen Library for the Study of African-American Life in Missouri, will house a variety of books, papers and other documents related to black history in Sedalia, Pettis County and across the state.
Marge Harlan said although the history of the area’s first white settlers and their families is well-documented and widely accessible, there is little information available about the many African-Americans who played a significant role in the development of the community.
She said they hope the library will encourage people to come forward with documents, records, pictures and other reference materials that can be collected, studied and preserved.
“We know families in the community have a lot of family history that hasn’t been captured in any way that’s permanent,” Jerry Harlan said. “We think a lot of people would like a place for their records to be accessible in the future.”
Nolen, who has already accumulated many books, papers and other historical documents that will be housed in the library, said she was glad to have a place to assemble a permanent collection and help preserve part of the community’s cultural history.
“Sedalia has a lot of stories, a lot of black history,” Nolen said. “It was very shocking when you think, as members of the African-American community pass away, all the history and stories will be lost.”
In addition to providing a place to preserve historical records, the Harlans envision the library as a meeting place for discussions and planning of informational programs aimed at broadening the knowledge of African-American culture and history.
“I am delighted to think, with Rose’s house and her efforts and through us all coming together, that we can discover, present and exhibit the history of African-Americans who came in to Pettis County,” Marge Harlan said.
Jerry Harlan said the library would be housed in four rooms within the existing structure, and the neighboring property would be converted into parking space.
He said the surrounding properties would provide locations for future additions as the library grows, but some renovations will have to be made before its opening, which they are targeting for next spring.
Sedalia Community Development Director John Simmons said city staff recommended approval of the permit after reviewing the application and determining the proposed library would fit in with other properties in the neighborhood.
Simmons said because the library will be open by appointment only and will have sufficient parking on the adjacent property, officials thought it would not inconvenience neighboring property owners. He also said the center could be an asset for attracting future development.
The City Council is expected to consider the special-use permit at its Oct. 18 meeting.