Alexandria Library Wins ALA’s ‘Excellence in Library Programming’ Award

Award recognizes an educational program commemorating the 1939 Alexandria Library Sit-In

Barrett Branch. In 1939, it was called Alexandria Public Library and served as the site for a historic sit-in. (Photo: Courtesy of Alexandria Library)

ALEXANDRIA, VA – Alexandria Library has been named the 2020 winner of the American Library Association’s (ALA) ‘Excellence in Library Programming Award’ for its program “We Are the Alexandria Library Sit-In.”

The program was a year-long celebration of the 80th anniversary of a historic protest at the library.  This 1939 protest of the Whites-only Alexandria Public Library, at the present-day Barrett Branch on Queen Street, was one of the first sit-ins of its kind in the nation.

The library’s award is supported by ALA’s Cultural Communities Fund. The honor recognizes a library that demonstrates excellence by providing programs that have community impact and respond to community needs.

The Alexandria Library Sit-In took place on August 21, 1939. (Photo: Courtesy of Alexandria Library)

“It is very important for the community in Alexandria to recognize the history of its library system,” said Executive Director Rose T. Dawson. “During this yearlong celebration, the library’s goal was to highlight the 1939 Sit-In that was led by Samuel W. Tucker and the five brave men that sparked major change in our community. If it wasn’t for the actions of these men, Sgt. Wilson, and others like them, the library would not be the welcoming place that it is today – for people of all colors – and for that, I am very grateful.”

In the 1930’s, as with most libraries in the Jim Crow South, Blacks and/or other people of color were not allowed library access. In 1939, after an ongoing effort to convince officials to establish equal access to community resources, 26-year-old resident and attorney Samuel W. Tucker organized five other Black residents to participate in a sit-in protest that occurred on August 21, 1939.

The program series involved family members of protest descendants in the planning for this anniversary event.

Library staff engaged the community through a variety of programs, including school visits, a film festival, anniversary week events, posters, commemorative library cards, pins, and postcards.

These events, which also involved city leadership, drew standing-room-only crowds. They will undoubtedly serve as a model for programming for libraries throughout the United States.

To learn more about the 1939 Sit-In, click HERE.

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