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‘A Legacy of Courage’: Alexandria Library Honors 85th Anniversary of 1939 Sit-In With Year-Long Celebration

Barrett Branch (Photo courtesy of Alexandria Library)

ALEXANDRIA, VA-This year marks the 85th anniversary of the 1939 Alexandria Library Sit-In. The event is believed to be the first sit-in in American history.

On Aug. 21, 1939, Samuel W. Tucker, a lawyer, arranged for five Black to go to  Alexandria Library (now the Barrett Branch at 717 Queen St.), a Whites-only institution. The group –  William Evans, Otto L. Tucker (the attorney’s brother), Edward Gaddis, Morris Murray, and Clarence Strange – was protesting “separate but equal” treatment. Tucker had previously attempted  to gain equal access for Blacks. But until the sit-in, he had been unsuccessful. That day, one man asked for a library card, was denied one, then sat down to read his book. Soon, another followed. When library staff contacted police, Tucker, waiting in his office, learned that the protesters were to be arrested. He secured a photographer to document the moment and represented them during their release from police custody.

(Left to right) William “Buddy” Evans, at left, Otto Tucker, Edward Gaddis, Morris L. Murray and Clarence “Buck” Strange led led out of the Barrett Branch Library are led out by police on Aug. 21, 1939. (File photo)

Though the demonstration was not reported by most newspapers, it was covered by African American publications throughout the country. For Tucker, this was only the beginning. He continued to fight for equal rights throughout his life. He would go on to serve as the lead attorney for the NAACP in Virginia, representing the organization in “groundbreaking civil rights cases,” according to the library’s webpage about the 1939 Sit-In,

To celebrate Tucker’s legacy and the enduring impact of the event he organized, Alexandria Library has programs, exhibits, and more planned for the entire year to honor what it is calling “A Legacy of Courage.”

The Library says that “programs throughout 2024 will aim to educate about the history of the 1939 Sit-In, explore themes of racial justice and equality, and share the stories of those who were involved in this and other civil rights protests.”

Every event taking place is not listed, as many are still being planned, but they include film screenings and book clubs. Earlier this month, the National Day of Racial Healing was held, which serves as an opportunity for all people to bond together with the goal of creating, reads a program flyer, “a more just and equitable world,”

For a calendar of events and details, click HERE.

[SEE ALSO:Alexandria Police Chief Don Hayes Leaving Department]

Kevin Dauray

Kevin is Publisher's Assistant with The Zebra Press. He has been working for Alexandria's "Good News" newspaper since 2019. A graduate of George Mason University, he earned a bachelor's in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. He also studied at the Columbia School of Broadcasting and holds a master's degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Marymount University. He is an alumnus of T.C. Williams High School. Go Titans!

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