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Alexandria, Virginia public library sit-in 1939 | by Washington Area Spark
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Alexandria, Virginia public library sit-in 1939

African Americans who conducted a sit-in at the all-white public library in Alexandria, Virginia August 21, 1939 are arrested and led away by police.


After the U.S. Capitol Restaurant 1934 sit-in campaign that involved Howard University students, Samuel Wilbert Tucker, a Howard University law graduate, organized a sit-in at the all-white Alexandria library in 1939.


Tucker had a group of African American men to one-by-one enter the library and ask for a library card. Upon refusal, each man would take a seat at a table in the library—ultimately occupying nearly all the tables.


As expected, police arrived and arrested the group for disorderly conduct. Tucker didn’t intend this to be an ongoing tactic, but as a case to be used to file suit.


The library, fearing the outcome of a court suit, entered into prolonged negotiations over the issue. Tucker became ill and in his absence community leaders settled for construction of an “equal” library for African Americans.


Tucker was outraged and after the new library was built, refused an invitation to apply for a library card, writing back,


“I refuse and will always refuse to accept a card to be used at the library to be constructed and operated at Alfred and Wythe Streets in lieu of [a] card to be used at the existing library on Queen Street for which I have made application.”


For a detailed blog post on the fight against Jim Crow and the U.S. Capitol and the history of the sit-in tactic in the Washington, D.C. area, see


For related images, see


The photographer is unknown. The image is courtesy of the Alexandria Public Library website.

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Taken on August 21, 1939