The following excerpt comes from an article in the November/December 2020 issue of Marketing Library Services (infotoday.com/mls/nov20/Castillo-Dawson--Commemorating-Local-History-in-Alexandria.shtml).
Alexandria, Va., is a city with a rich history, a place where President George Washington once conducted business and where Civil War General Robert E. Lee grew up. While those are well-known parts of our history, not as many know that in 1939, it was also the location of America's first library sit-in, when five young African American men peacefully protested the city's whites-only policy.
The Alexandria Library Sit-In took place 16 years before the start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, 21 years before the 1960 Greensboro Sit-In at the Woolworth lunch counter in North Carolina, and 25 years before the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Through a series of celebrations that date back to 2009, we at Alexandria Library have sought to make the library sit-in just as well-known as those events.
A HISTORIC PROTEST
Our organization was established as a subscription library in 1794. It became a public library in 1937, although at that time, only white patrons were allowed to use it. After an ongoing effort to convince officials to establish equal access to community resources, 26-year-old resident and attorney Samuel Tucker organized five other African American residents to participate in a sit-in protest.
On Aug. 21, 1939, William "Buddy" Evans, Morris Murray, Edward Gaddis, Clarence Strange, and Otto Tucker went into the whites-only library and asked to register for library cards. After being turned down, each sat silently at a different table and began to read a library book. Police officers arrested all five and charged them with disorderly conduct. Tucker, the attorney, proceeded to challenge the city in court. In an attempt to resist integration, the court case was delayed. In 1940, Tucker became ill and was unable to pursue the case. Other leaders in the African American community stepped in, and they accepted the offer of a "separate but equal" facility. In April 1940, the city of Alexandria opened the Robert H. Robinson Library, a separate space for African Americans, which operated for about 20 years.
Since 2009, Alexandria Library staffers have been working to honor and to increase awareness about the 1939 action. Our most recent effort, a 2019 program series called We Are the Alexandria Library Sit-In, which commemorated the 80th anniversary of the protest, earned us the 2020 ALA Excellence in Library Programming...