On August 21, 1939, five young black men -- William Evans, Otto L. Tucker,
Edward Gaddis, Morris Murray, Clarence Strange -- staged a "sit-down strike"
at the whites-only Alexandria Library at 717 Queen Street. One by one
they entered the building and asked to register for a library card. As
each well dressed visitor was refused, he took a seat and began to read
a book. Librarian Katharine H. Scoggin called the police who arrested
the men for disorderly conduct. The lookout, Clarence's brother Robert,
ran to the office of attorney Samuel W. Tucker with the news. When Tucker
convinced the police that no law had been broken, the five young men were
charged with disorderly conduct.
Samuel W. Tucker, at age 26, had planned and coordinated the demonstration
in order to test the legality of excluding African-Americans from a
public facility. He recruited the men (including his younger brother)
and drilled them in preparation for what might happen.
Interestingly, the Alexandria Gazette published their home addresses in news articles about the event. (Members of four of the five families were registered to vote -- see Voter Registration in Alexandria, Virginia, African-Americans, 1902-1954).
City Attorney Armistead L. Boothe, vice president of the Library Board,
stalled for time. Instead of integrating the library, the city moved
quickly to build a "colored library" in the Parker-Gray neighborhood.
The library, named for Reverend Robert H. Robinson, opened April 23,
1940. It is now the location of the Alexandria
Black History Resource Center.
Tucker's letter stated that he would "refuse to accept a card to be used at the library to be constructed and operated at Alfred and Wythe Streets in lieu of card to be used at the existing library on Queen Street."
Samuel Wilbert Tucker was born in Alexandria on June 18, 1913. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University in 1933, he read for the law under Alexandria attorney Thomas M. Watson and was admitted to the Virginia Bar in July 1934 at age 20. Tucker's career included groundbreaking civil rights cases across the state. He served as the lead lawyer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Virginia and was a founding partner in the prominent Richmond law firm Hill, Tucker and Marsh. Tucker died on October 19, 1990.
Ten years later, a new elementary school in Alexandria was officially dedicated the Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School.
The sit-in is chronicled in a documentary called Out of Obscurity. Copies may be borrowed from Alexandria Library.