Alexandria Library Receives Prestigious Award for Program Recognizing ’39 Sit-In

John Cotton Dana Award Provides Library With $10,000 Grant

Alexandria Library Executive Director Rose T. Dawson holds the John Cotton Dana Award. (Photo: Alexandria Library)

ALEXANDRIA, VA – Alexandria Library announced Friday afternoon that it has been awarded the prestigious John Cotton Dana Award for last year’s program, “We Are the Alexandria Library Sit-in.”  The program recognized the importance of the 1939 demonstration by Black residents to gain access to library services. The Alexandria Library Sit-In was one of the first in the country.

“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 year-long 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. As the nation wrestles with the issue of racial equity today, the actions of these men are a perfect example of the positive change that occur when employing peaceful protest.”

The award, supported by the W.H. Wilson Foundation, provides Alexandria Library with a $10,000 grant. It is given on the basis of the impact of library public relations in the community. The Library will be honored at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in 2021.

The Library hosted a number of events for the 80th anniversary. The descendants panel on October 21 received wide praise from attendees, which included a number of community leaders. Other events included a film screening, and a bike tour of sites related to the people who participated in the Sit-In.

In order to raise awareness of events commemorating the anniversary, library staff created webpages, flyers, newsletters, and more.

A Zebra Press article dated June 12, 2020 provides some background on the Sit-In:

“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.”

Perhaps the most poignant aspect of the Library’s program is that on October 18, according to the Library press release, the Alexandria Circuit Court dismissed all charges against the six men, upon the recommendation of Commonwealth’s  Attorney Bryan Porter.

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