Reblog: Alexandria Public Library 1939 Sit-in

National Library Week 2020Alexandria Library wins American Library Association’s
2020 ‘Excellence in Library Programming’ Award

ALEXANDRIA, VA — Alexandria Library has been named the 2020 winner of the ALA Excellence in Library Programming Award for its program “We Are the Alexandria Library Sit-In.”

The award, supported by ALA’s Cultural Communities Fund, recognizes a library that demonstrates excellence by providing programs that have community impact and respond to community needs.

“We Are the Alexandria Library Sit-In” was a year-long celebration of the 80th anniversary of a historic protest at the library.  This 1939 protest of the city’s whites-only public library was one of the first sit-ins of its kind in the nation.

Library Executive Director, Rose T. Dawson, states “It is very important for the community in Alexandria to recognize the history of its Library system. During this yearlong 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. If it wasn’t for the actions of these men, Sgt. Wilson, and others like them, the Library would not be the welcoming place that it is today – for people of all colors – and for that, I am very grateful.”

In the 1930’s, like most libraries in the Jim Crow South, African Americans 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 African American residents to participate in a sit-in protest.  On August 21, 1939, William “Buddy” Evans, Morris Murray, Edward Gaddis, Clarence Strange, and Otto Tucker each asked to register for a library card. After being turned down, each sat silently at a different table and began to read a library book. Police officers arrested the group and charged them with disorderly conduct.

The program series, “We are the Alexandria Library Sit-in,” involved family members of protest descendants in the planning for this anniversary event.  Library staff engaged the community through a variety of programs, including school visits, a yearlong film festival, anniversary week events, posters, commemorative library cards, pins and postcards. The events, which also involved Alexandria city leadership, drew standing room only crowds and truly served as a model for programming for other libraries across the nation.

More information about the ALA Excellence in Library Programming Award, including how to submit a nomination, is available on the ALA website (www.ala.org).

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