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80 Years Ago: Blacks-Only Robinson Library Opens on Wythe Street

Today marks eight decades since African American patrons could register for library cards

Archival photo of Alexandria’s Robinson Library. (File photo)

ALEXANDRIA, VA – Less than a year after the 1939 Library Sit-in was organized by Samuel Tucker Jr., African Americans could finally register for library cards. The Robert H. Robinson Library opened on April 24, 1940, at the corner of Wythe and N. Alfred Street.

“The rushed approval and quick construction of the [Robinson] Library satisfied the desire of the Alexandria Library Board of Directors and the City Council to maintain the Kate Waller Barrett Library as a whites-only institution,” the City said in a press release this morning.


“The fact that 600 African American Alexandrians obtained library cards in the first year of its operation is a testament to its role in our community. The majority of these early patrons were children.”

Separate But Unequal

While the facilities and resources were separate and unequal to those at the whites-only branch, this place of learning was important to Alexandria’s African American community.

It offered story hours for kids, an adult reading club, and a gathering space. Over time, the Alexandria Library system was quietly and gradually integrated. First, in 1959 for adults and high school students, then in July 1962, it integrated fully.

Immediately following the full integration of the libraries, the Robert Robinson Library operated as Alexandria’s Bookmobile Station. It later served as the Alexandria Black History Resource Center between 1983 and 2004.

Alexandria Black History Museum. (File photo)
Alexandria Black History Museum. (File photo)

Since 2005, the building has served as the Alexandria Black History Museum—an important community asset, then and now. For more info, visit:

MORE: Alexandria Recognizes Lynching Victim with Online Ceremony


MORE: Alexandria Library 1939 Sit-In Was First in the Nation

Mary Wadland

Mary Wadland is the Publisher and Editor in Chief of The Zebra Press, founded by her in 2010. Originally from Delray Beach, Florida, Mary is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Hollins College in Roanoke, VA and has lived and worked in the Alexandria publishing community since 1987.

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