Activist and tennis champion Billie Jean King has been recognized globally for her efforts on and off the court. On Saturday, thousands of Long Beach residents stayed under the sun to hear the 75-year-old speak at the grand opening of the downtown library named in her honor.
“Anytime you have the opportunity to open a library is a wonderful day,” Mayor Robert Garcia said. “It’s so much more to our city than the walls and building itself, it’s really a reflection of where the city is going.”
The Billie Jean King Library replaced the Main Library that closed earlier this year. The former professional athlete expressed her appreciation for the new building’s structure and purpose.
“My dream is that the new main library will be a place for the people of Long Beach to keep learning and to connect and prosper,” King said.
King got her tennis start in Long Beach as a fifth grader at Los Cerritos Elementary. A graduate of Long Beach Polytechnic High School, she spent most of her youth in Wrigley Heights before winning her Wimbledon women’s doubles title when she was 17 years old.
King was effective in using her success to make changes in the advancement for women and in civil rights, particularly for the LGBTQ+ community. In 2009, she became the first female athlete to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“I’ve come full circle,” King said. “Without the people of Long Beach, I never would have had the opportunity to launch my tennis career, traveling the world and having a platform to hopefully make a difference in the lives of others.”
Councilmember Jeannine Pearce compared King to historical activist Dolores Huerta, and mentioned how her actions paved the way for the freedom of generations to come.
“When Billie came out as gay, it wasn’t a one-time thing,” Pearce said. “It was for our future and it was forever.”
Every year, Long Beach libraries serve over a million visitors. At 92,500 square feet, the Billie Jean King Library is considered the crown jewel of the downtown Civic Center. With its 300,000 books and an adaptive technology center, it aims to continue the city’s learning success.
“The library will serve as a beacon for education here at the center of our downtown,” Garcia said.
Hundreds of people across the city contributed to the over $2 million in raised funds to enhance the building. The new library will provide services such as a laptop check-out station, 3D printers and an extensive children’s area. It will also be utilizing its funds for resources for job seekers, homeless people, and veterans.
“Today’s celebration is just the beginning of a new chapter in downtown Long Beach,” said Plenary Executive Chairman, Dale Bonner.