ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WDVM) — This week, the City of Alexandria is commemorating the 80th anniversary of the country’s first-recorded library sit-in.
In 1939, Alexandria lawyer Samuel Tucker coached about 10 to 12 African American men to peacefully protest in the all-white Barrett Branch Library, which was supported by white and black taxpayers.
“He wanted to make sure that they were well-dressed; that they were well-spoken; that they were prepared to be arrested… because it was going to be an act of civil disobedience,” said Rose Timmons Dawson, executive director of the Alexandria Library. On the day of the event only five showed up.
One by one, the men walked into the library and asked for a library card. They were each denied one. They each sat down and read a book for about two hours as employees and the city manager decided what to do with them.
When the group was arrested for civil disobedience, a crowd of about 200 spectators had formed around the library.
“Lynching was very popular during this period. To take a stance of that magnitude is not only brave, but it says that they had the bigger picture in mind. This was something that needed to take place for a community; not just for them individually.”
Timmons Dawson is the city’s first African American library director. There have only been six directors since the library opened in 1937. “There is no way I could hold this job if it weren’t for the actions that those gentlemen took and so I stand on their shoulders and I definitely recognize that they deserve celebrating.”
The city opened a library for African Americans in 1940. Today, it serves as the city’s Black History Museum.