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Library system: Nothing personal, Patrick Henry, but you're out

Revolutionary War firebrand's name will not be part of new Vienna branch facility

When the new Vienna library opens in fall 2026, it no longer will be named after Founding Father Patrick Henry, but will have a new moniker: Vienna-Carter Library.

The Fairfax County Public Library board of trustees, during its Feb. 14 meeting at George Mason Regional Library, unanimously decided to rename the facility  in honor of a longtime, influential African-American family in Vienna.

“The Library Board is grateful that we are part of communities where people speak up and share their histories, stories that allow us to grow and learn from the past,” Library board of trustees chairman Brian Engler said in a media statement. “Naming the new facility the ‘Vienna-Carter Library‘ allows us to show our commitment to equitable access for everyone, from the past and hopefully long into the future.”

The Carter family “has contributed significantly” to the history of the library, Vienna and Fairfax County, library officials said.

As a charter member of the Fairfax County NAACP, William McKinley Carter (1897-1977) was crucial in obtaining a county library branch to serve people of all races in Vienna. The town’s existing library was for whites only.

Carter and his wife, Lillian, in 1958 co-founded the Vienna Friends of the Library and led the effort to open Patrick Henry Library, an integrated Fairfax County Public Library facility, in a storefront at 325 Maple Ave., E., in1962. The current library at 101 Maple Ave., E., opened in 1971 and is nearing the end of its useful life, library officials said.

The Library Board in mid-2023 began receiving correspondence from Vienna resident Dee Dee Carter, the cousin of William and Lillian Carter, who also rallied family members and others in the community about possibly renaming Patrick Henry Library after the family, said Fairfax County Public Library Director Jessica Hudson.

“The Carter family is grateful that we are being commemorated and honored for the hard work that went into the integration of the Patrick Henry Library due to the dedication of the Friends of the Library,” Dee Dee Carter said in a media release from the library system.

There is nothing wrong having the library named after Patrick Henry, a local figure who had a great impact on the nation, but his name is not directly associated with that facility or the library system, Hudson said.

While library-naming rights are solely the county’s purview, the library system has strong relationships with the town of Vienna’s staff and elected officials and kept them informed and involved as the proposal advanced, Hudson said.

The new library will be built on the site of the current Patrick Henry Library at 101 Maple Ave., E. Fairfax County and the town of Vienna are jointly undertaking the project, which will feature a shared parking structure with spaces for library patrons as well as municipal parking to serve visitors to the town’s main commercial corridor.

The current facility and planned temporary library that will be open during construction will retain the Patrick Henry name.

Next on the chopping block for the Library Board is former President Woodrow Wilson. The body on March 13 will consider a proposal to drop his name from a library in Mason District.