A memorial service will be held this week for Carol McNeal, "whose Carol's Books & Things was described by customers as a library of the black experience and a bridge across the racial divide," the Sacramento Bee reported. McNeal died May 26 at the age of 86.
Melba Whitaker, her daughter, recalled that one of McNeal's favorite day trips had been driving to the nation's oldest African-American bookstore, Marcus Books, in San Francisco's Fillmore District: "She always had a love of reading, and she would go to San Francisco to enjoy Marcus Books, and then she decided we needed something like that in Sacramento. We (African Americans) needed a place where we could come be ourselves--everything for us, by us and about us."
Carol's Books & Things opened in 1984 in a small space on Freeport Boulevard as a general interest bookstore. Her son, Tim McNeal, said that as African American customers asked McNeal for books about the black experience, for children's books with pictures of black children and for literature with African-American protagonists, she realized she had enough of a customer base to make the shift in focus.
After five years, the bookstore moved to the Lanai Shops at 5679 Freeport Blvd, and in its 12th year, relocated to a larger space at 5964 South Land Park Drive, remaining there for six years until closing in 2002. Although it reopened in 2004 at another spot, the business was sold in 2006.
The Bee noted that "as her business gained popularity as a gathering place for black intellectuals, it was also targeted by hate crimes. After an arson at the Sacramento NAACP offices in 1993, McNeal told a Bee reporter that she received roughly 15 threatening phone calls. In addition, two white men came to her store and knocked books and other items to the floor, and then her store windows were vandalized by racist graffiti.
"More than 200 people showed up one Saturday night in September 1993 to rally around McNeal after she did television and newspaper interviews about the impact that the hate-filled graffiti had on her. In addition, the California Attorney General's Office, the Legislature, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors and the Sacramento City Council all sent resolutions to honor McNeal."
"She was a lifelong learner," Tim McNeal said. "Both she and my dad were very committed to making the lives of people around them better, so education was a big part of what they shared with people. They encouraged people to continually find ways to educate themselves."