Originally founded on July 24, 1794 by the Alexandria Library Company, the Library was established as a subscription service, becoming the first in the state. Its members paid a fee to use its books. Eventually, several groups came together to form a free public library and on August 20, 1937, the Kate Waller Barrett Branch opened to the community. However, based on the Jim Crow laws of that time, not all citizens were allowed to use the facility and its resources.
This led to one of the most important events in the Library’s history which took place on August 21, 1939, when local attorney, Samuel W. Tucker, and five African American men conducted a sit-in. Recognized as the first library sit-in to occur in the country, the gentlemen individually entered the library and requested library cards from a then-segregated library. Eventually arrested for their act of civil disobedience, their actions resulted in the opening of the Robert H. Robinson Library, which served the African American community before becoming the City’s Black History Museum.
Alexandria Library Sit-In – August 21, 1939Director Rose T. Dawson commented, “The anniversaries provide an opportunity for the Library to recognize and celebrate all of its past, the good and bad. Byproviding opportunities for our users to learn, explore, create, and connect, we emphasize that libraries today continue to function as the people’s university, making information available and accessible to all communities. We look forward to commemorating these historic events with exciting and educational programs throughout 2019.”