Beloved community organizer and former Fulton County Commissioner Joan Garner was immortalized on Monday with the renaming of the Ponce de Leon Library in her honor.
Garner (photo) died in 2017 after a long fight with breast cancer. She was the county’s first-ever openly LGBTQ commissioner, and the ceremony heralded her work advocating for LGBTQ rights and fighting HIV/AIDS.
Naming a library after Garner was appropriate, according to several speakers. Garner’s widow, Fulton County State Court Judge Jane Morrison, said that growing up in Washington, D.C., Garner would study at the Library of Congress.
“Libraries and librarians held a very special place in her heart,” Morrison said. “So it’s very fitting that this is the place that will carry on her name.”
County officials joined Garner’s family, friends, staffers, campaign members and medical team for the library renaming ceremony.
“She really represented District 4 tirelessly from 2010 until her passing in 2017,” Fulton County Chair Robb Pitts said. “I know that she is looking down on us today and smiling.”
The Fulton Commission voted unanimously to rename the library in 2019. Its new name is the Joan P. Garner Library at Ponce de Leon.
‘Blueprint’ for LGBTQ activists
Charles Stephens spearheaded the effort to rename the library. He is founder and executive director of the Counter Narrative Project, a nonprofit that advocates for Black gay men.
Stephens looked to Garner as “a blueprint” when he started out in activism.
“I knew I needed a map to guide my journey to leadership and advocacy,” he said. “I knew I needed a North Star. Then I found one.”
Heading into Atlanta Black Pride this weekend, Stephens hopes the library serves as “a love letter to the Black LGBTQ community,” he said.
“I hope this library and what it represents will let future generations know that someone fought for your right to exist,” he said.
‘What a special day’
Fulton County Commissioner Natalie Hall was Garner’s chief of staff. She succeeded Garner in the District 4 post after her death.
“For this library to be named after her is an honor,” Hall said. “It is so befitting because she loved to read and she loved community.”
Fulton County Commissioner Lee Morris said he and Garner bonded despite their political differences. Morris is a Republican and Garner was a Democrat.
“Joan was one of those folks who didn’t care about those things,” he said. “She just wanted to do what was right. When you think about public servants, Joan Garner was an example of what we all aspired to be.”
Fulton County Library System Director Gayle Holloman called Garner “a fierce advocate for libraries.”
“She understood that libraries are community hubs and that we are disseminators of information,” Holloman said.
Fulton County Manager Dick Anderson called Garner “a great and lovely lady.”
“What a special day to recognize Commissioner Garner,” he said.