Alexandria Library -- Special Collections

Document of the Month

February 2004

Letter from Samuel W. Tucker to Alexandria Library, February 13, 1940

William Evans, Otto L. Tucker, Edward Gaddis, Morris Murray, Clarence Strange Tucker's letter to Alexandria Library  Samuel Wilbert Tucker, June 18, 1913-October 19, 1990
Photo images appear courtesy of the Alexandria Black History Resource Center

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.


Related Sources
  • Manuscript Box 98J, Folder J: Alexandria Library -- Administration, Correspondence, 1937-1944
  • Out of Obscurity (videotape)
  • Vertical File: Alexandria Library -- Sit-in, 1939
  • Vertical File: Biography -- Tucker, Samuel W.

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