It’s a fabulous February for many reasons at the Rock Island Public Library, not the least of which is multiple events for lifelong learners and lovers of history.
The Rock Island Public Library kicks off the first week of February with three events connected to its year-long 150th anniversary celebration.
1. Noted historian and storyteller Brian “Fox” Ellis joins the library for the first of three library performances this year in his “History . . . in Person!” series. Ellis presents “Walt Whitman’s Lincoln,” at 6 pm Wednesday, February 8 at the Rock Island Downtown Library, 401 19th Street.
In portraying the noted poet, Ellis recreates a program Whitman delivered on the life and death of President Abraham Lincoln. The 16th president was a great admirer of Whitman’s book, “Leaves of Grass,” and was known to read excerpts to his law clients. Whitman’s most famous poems, “Oh Captain, My Captain” and “When Lilacs Last Bloomed” were written as eulogies for Lincoln. After Lincoln’s death Whitman gave regular lectures on Lincoln to rave reviews. The first-person performance is interwoven with Whitman’s poems, and personal recollections for meeting Lincoln during the war. Brian "Fox" Ellis has been regaling audiences for more than 35 years. Since 1980 Fox has been touring the world as a performer and educator. Through stories and song, myth and poetry, Fox brings the world to the stage of the Rock Island Library. He is a dynamic teller who, in a warmly entertaining manner, captures what is most life-affirming and beautiful in the human experience.
This event is suitable for all ages, and registration is not required. Light refreshments will be provided. Please enter the library for this after-hours event via the South entrance door.
2. On Thursday, February 9, Dr. Jane Simonsen, professor of history at Augustana College, joins the library to consider a more contemporary vision of Native American life and culture. Her free lecture, “Balancing the Account: Shifting Public Perception of Native Americans from Deficits to Values” is at 5pm on Thursday, February 9, also at the Downtown Library, 401 19th Street.
Simonsen notes that communities across the nation, including the QC, often recognize Native Americans through public displays of "commemoration." While such displays might be intended to honor Native people, they risk locating indigenous communities in the past rather than the present and emphasizing cultural deficits over cultural values. Her talk will explore the historical roots of narratives about Native people and nations that non-Natives still rely on, and consider what kinds of initiatives can change the conversation around Native histories, communities, cultures, and values.
3. On Saturday, February 11, local author David Sebben presents a free talk on the life of 1915 Rock Island High School athlete and acclaimed graduate Sol Butler. Sebben’s presentation, “Sol Butler, The Greatest Athlete You’ve Never Heard Of,” is at 11am on Saturday, Feb. 11 at the Downtown Library. An accomplished athlete, Butler played for the Rock Island Independents football team and competed in the long jump in the 1920 Olympic games.
Sebben’s interest in Butler started through research on a Rock Island High School history, “Rock Solid-Our History,” which he co-authored with Doug Frazer and Rick Miers. Butler’s story needs to be told, noted Sebben. “After digging through 100-year-old newspapers and contacting people who had knowledge about Sol, I wish I’d known him. Not only was he an excellent athlete, he was a good student and an exceptional friend to so many people. He dealt with so many racial injustices throughout his life, with so much class and character. It was an emotional rollercoaster ride writing about his life,” he said. Sebben’s book is almost ready for publication. His free presentation is free and open to all ages.
In more events connected to local and national history at the Rock Island Library, community members will present “Why, Black History?” conversations from 10 am to 1:30 pm, on Saturdays from February 4 through March 4 at the Downtown Library. The free series is facilitated by members of the Black community, and include such topics as “Where did we come from? How did we end up here? Freedom AND justice?” and any other topics that the group members want to explore. The events are open to anyone but are best suited for participants ages 10 through adulthood.
Later in February, the Rock Island Library is working with Augustana College and Davenport Public Library to present an offsite event, “Birth of the Computer, The John Atanasoff Story.” The event is presented from 6:00 to 8:00 pm on February 23 at Wallenberg Hall, Denkmann Building, Augustana College, 3520 7th Avenue, Rock Island, Illinois. The Augustana College event looks into the story of John Atanasoff, an assistant professor in mathematics and physics at the then Iowa State College in Ames, Iowa, who conceptualized the first digital computer in a late-night trip to Rock Island, IL in the winter of 1937. For more details, see the library or Augustana College calendars.
For details, and many more “Fabulous February” events, visit the library website, call 309-732-READ, or follow Rock Island Library on Facebook and Instagram.
All library events are free and open to the public.