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The Alexandria Library Sit-In (http://alexlibraryva.org/1939-sit-in) took abode 16 years afore the alpha of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, 21 years afore the 1960 Greensboro Sit-In at the Woolworth cafeteria adverse in North Carolina, and 25 years afore the admission of the Civilian Rights Act. Through a alternation of celebrations that date aback to 2009, we at Alexandria Library accept approved to accomplish the library demonstration aloof as acclaimed as those events. In this moment of civic reckoning with issues of ancestral equity, canonizing the Alexandria Library Sit-In feels alike added burning for us.
Alexandria is a densely busy burghal breadth in the Washington, D.C., busline region, with 159,000 residents. Added than 21% are African American, and 48% of the city’s all-embracing citizenry is non-white. While we currently pride ourselves on announcement equity, diversity, and admittance in our organization, Alexandria Library hasn’t consistently been on the appropriate ancillary of history.
Our alignment was accustomed as a cable library in 1794. It became a accessible library in 1937, although at that time, alone white assemblage were accustomed to use it. After an advancing accomplishment to argue admiral to authorize according admission to association resources, 26-year-old citizen and advocate Samuel Tucker organized bristles added African American association to participate in a demonstration protest.
On Aug. 21, 1939, William “Buddy” Evans, Morris Murray, Edward Gaddis, Clarence Strange, and Otto Tucker went into the whites-only library and asked to annals for library cards. After actuality angry down, ceremony sat silently at a altered table and began to apprehend a library book. Badge admiral arrested all bristles and answerable them with chaotic conduct. Tucker, the attorney, proceeded to claiming the burghal in court. In an attack to abide integration, the cloister case was delayed. In 1940, Tucker became ill and was clumsy to accompany the case. Added leaders in the African American association stepped in, and they accustomed the activity of a “separate but equal” facility. In April 1940, the burghal of Alexandria opened the Robert H. Robinson Library, a abstracted amplitude for African Americans, which operated for about 20 years.
Since 2009, Alexandria Library staffers accept been alive to account and to admission acquaintance about the 1939 action. Our best contempo effort, a 2019 affairs alternation alleged We Are the Alexandria Library Sit-In,” which actual the 80th ceremony of the protest, becoming us the 2020 ALA Excellence in Library Programming Award and a 2020 John Cotton Dana Library Accessible Relations Award. I, Andrea Castillo, co-chaired the board that planned the series. Because I was not alive at the library during 2009 and 2014 commemorations, our controlling administrator Rose Dawson joins me to allotment some history, back this success was years in the making.
Dawson accustomed the accent of the beef from her ancient canicule at the helm. She has emphasized the call of bringing acquaintance to it as an important allotment of the history of our library and of civilian rights. As the aboriginal African American to authority the position of controlling director, Dawson acquainted she would not accept been actuality were it not for the adventurous accomplishments of the past. Today, our actual focus complements advancing efforts by Alexandria leaders and workers to advance disinterestedness and admission throughout the city. It’s additionally constant with the goals of our library’s accepted cardinal plan, which prioritizes hosting programs that accommodated the needs of accessible associates of our community.
Our objectives in accretion programming about the demonstration were to abide to body local, state, and civic acquaintance about the accident and to advance association assurance through important discussions not alone about Alexandria’s history, but additionally about chase and amusing justice. Additionally, it was actual important to us to absorb the families of the protesters in our latest events, which abominably had not ahead occurred. Inviting them to allotment their adventures with the association brought history to life.
Alexandria Library had been commemorating the ceremony of the beef in 5-year intervals (in 2009 and 2014) afore we planned the yearlong ceremony for 2019.
Back in 2009, Dawson partnered with the Alexandria Black History Museum (ABHM) to put calm a 1-day accident for the sit-in’s 70th anniversary. The event, answer primarily through the library’s newsletter, featured a reenactment of the demonstration with bounded schoolchildren, and Dawson served as the emcee. Library agents additionally accommodating efforts for a appropriate postmark acquainted the date of the 70th ceremony of the sit-in. While the accident was well-attended, abounding saw it as an ABHM celebration. Dawson absitively the library would adapt and host its own accident for the 75th anniversary.
For that 75th ceremony in 2014, an centralized board fabricated up of assembly of all library branches and departments took the advance on planning. An alien committee, absolute assembly from the NAACP, ABHM, Alexandria Burghal Accessible Schools, and bounded businesses, as able-bodied as accepting leaders, served as advisors. We gave ceremony alignment a anthology with the history of and talking credibility about the sit-in. We additionally recruited Alexandria civilian rights figure Ferdinand Day and above ambassador Patsy Ticer to serve as honorary co-chairs, which animated the ceremony in the eyes of the community. We started planning in October 2013 for a yearlong celebration.
First, the centralized board absitively to cast the celebration. We created a logo and a tagline—A Peaceful Beef Ahead of its Time—and acclimated them on all accident fliers, promotional materials, and merchandise. We purchased several iterations of the area “librarysitin” to absolute cartage to our website, and our communications staffers acclimated Facebook to advance the events.
In January 2014, we beatific out a columnist absolution announcement the accessible year of events. It included quotes from the honorary co-chairs, and it garnered absorption and abutment from the bounded community. We additionally advertisement commemorative postcards at ceremony of our branches, at the ABHM, and through Visit Alexandria, an alignment that promotes tourism. Library agents submitted the demonstration to Chase’s Calendar of Events, and its accepting ensured ceremony recognition.
The library created a traveling affectation that was displayed in burghal anteroom and elsewhere. Librarians activated to Virginia’s Department of Celebrated Preservation gluttonous a celebrated marker, which we apparent at a half-day alfresco ceremony that drew added than 650 people. Added burghal agencies, nonprofits, and summer camps accurate the accident and acclimated our flier to animate their audience to attend. Bounded account stations NBC4 and ABC7 interviewed Dawson on the scene, and publications such as The Washington Post, Alexandria Gazette Packet, and Alexandria Times additionally covered the event.
For the 80th anniversary, we connected to body on the successes of the 75th anniversary. We capital to plan programs that would run throughout 2019, so we began in abatement 2018 by basic a board of agents associates from beyond abounding library branches and departments. Again, we acclimated the A Peaceful Beef Ahead of its Time tagline, and we adapted the logo. We put the logo on accessory pins, postcards, invitations, fliers, and a appropriate archetype of the DVD Out of Obscurity: The Story of the 1939 Alexandria Library Sit-In, a documentary fabricated by a bounded filmmaker in affiliation with the ABHM, which we offered for sale. Additionally, we advertisement 1,000 limited-edition commemorative library cards, which were accessible at no amount to new and absolute customers.
In January 2019, our communications appointment issued a columnist absolution announcement the We Are the Alexandria Library Sit-In affairs series. In February, we launched a trivia quiz on our homepage that focused on the history of the library, the city, and the 1939 protest. We publicized the quiz in our newsletter, and players could win prizes for answering questions correctly.
Throughout the year, ceremony of our four branches hosted a showing, one per quarter, of the Out of Obscurity documentary. We created a affiche announcement the dates and showtimes and placed copies in every branch. We appear the annual showings in our newsletter as well.
As we began planning for 2019, we were acquainted of one big abortion from our antecedent commemorations: We had not articular and affianced the ancestors associates of the demonstration participants. We hoped to do that this time, but by June, we still had bootless to affix with birth of the protesters. While accessory an According Amends Initiative meeting, Dawson met a bounded historian who provided acquaintance advice for several of the families.
Given our history, there was no abruptness that the families had some disbelief apropos our admiration to bless this event. But Dawson managed to get assembly from two of the families to sit bottomward and allocution to her. In brainstorming with them, Dawson agreed that the library would host a Birth Console and actualize READ-style posters featuring the ancestors members.
My co-chair Brian Sando and I accomplished out to several birth and arrive them to an aboriginal August photo shoot at the Kate Waller Barrett Annex Library, breadth the demonstration had taken place. One of our summer interns took both alone and accumulation photos, including one re-enacting the 1939 photo of the bristles protesters actuality escorted out of the library by the police. Dawson was there to abide architecture relationships with the descendants.
All of the assignment on our own READ posters happened in-house. Senior communications administrator Anton Murray edited the photos and acclimated Adobe InDesign and a handmade arrangement to ensure they had a constant look. We printed them centralized as well. We apparent the posters at an ceremony accident at the Barrett Annex Library after in August. (Several added birth abounding that event, and Murray took photos of them, again created a new set of posters that were after apparent at the Birth Console in October.)
In all, we created 18 posters and gave ceremony of the birth a archetype of the one address his or her own affinity as a claimed keepsake. We chose to affectation two of the images, the re-enactment of the 1939 arrest and one of William “Buddy” Evans’ great-great grandsons, central all Alexandria Library locations and in burghal hall. We additionally gave the posters to added ally like burghal amusement centers and the sheriff’s office.
In July, I had accomplished out to Virginia Delegate Charniele Herring, the arch angel of House Joint Resolution No. 1134 (http://bit.ly/joint-res) acquainted the 80th ceremony of the Alexandria Library Sit-In. We accustomed chat that she would be able to appear our August event, and we fabricated affairs to accept her apprehend the resolution at the Barrett Annex Library. Unfortunately, at the last
minute Herring could not attend, but aldermanic adolescent Tia Banks apprehend the resolution instead. This kicked off a ceremony of celebrations at all four branches to admire the ceremony of the celebrated sit-in. We accustomed a archetype of the resolution, which fabricated its way to ceremony of the library branches throughout the week.
The year of contest culminated with the Alexandria Library Sit-In Birth Console in October 2019, which we’d answer via fliers in the library, our enewsletter, Facebook, Twitter, and our website. We fabricated abiding to cross-promote the console at added library contest as well. In addition, we emailed arresting association organizers, government officials, accepting leaders, and others to allure them. Account advantage of the August ceremony had additionally helped body acquaintance about our console program.
An extra-special moment occurred that we had not originally planned for. As the library’s controlling director, Dawson consistently abounding the burghal manager’s account affairs and concluded up talking with Alexandria Commonwealth’s Advocate Bryan Porter about the sit-in. This led to Porter petitioning the ambit cloister to accept the aboriginal chaotic conduct accuse adjoin the protesters dropped. That was big news, so we issued a columnist absolution a few canicule afore our panel. Several media organizations best up the news, which helped our appearance numbers. On the big day, we witnessed Alexandria ambassador Justin Wilson, with Porter by his side, apprehend the ambit cloister adjournment adage that accuse adjoin the bristles protesters had been dropped. The ambassador gave active copies of the certificate to the accessory descendants.
During October’s Alexandria Library Sit-In Birth Panel, ancestors of several of the protesters aggregate their adventures as Black citizens in Alexandria and how the contest of 1939 afflicted their families. Added than 200 bodies abounding the program, abundant to backpack both the library accident amplitude and an overflow allowance upstairs. We additionally advertisement the accident alive online (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHiRbxgVyN4) and after aggregate the video.
Moreover, the Birth Console garnered bounded and civic media advantage beyond a array of platforms, including The Washington Post (https://wapo.st/37lX632), the Associated Columnist (http://bit.ly/AP-Alex-sitin), bounded account radio base WTOP, Alexandria-based publications Zebra and Alexandria Living Magazine, and bounded television stations ABC7, NBC4, and WDVM.
To admire both the demonstration and the 225th ceremony of the founding of the Alexandria Library Company (https://alexlibraryva.org/about-us), the library added two American Girl dolls to its collection: Melody and Felicity. We partnered with Virginia Railway Express to acceptable Melody, an African American baby that represented the civilian rights era, in August 2019. Accompanied by Dawson, Melody rode the Amtrak alternation from Washington, D.C., to Alexandria Union Station. Thanks to Alexandria LivingMagazine and our Twitter posts, there were 30 adolescent girls on the alternation belvedere with their own dolls cat-and-mouse to accost Melody. Abounding others followed Melody’s adventure through Facebook and Twitter as she visited celebrated African American sites.
Throughout 2019, we advertisement 2,500 accessory pins, 4,000 postcards, and 100 READ posters beyond schools, burghal agencies, and libraries to ensure that bodies bethink the contest into the future.
Our advisers were captivated and ashamed to accept won two above awards for our 2019 We Are the Alexandria Library Sit-In project. It took adamantine assignment and relationship-building over a cardinal of years, and we abstruse forth the way. We begin that our programs absolutely became acknowledged already we had the abutment of association leaders, organizations, and abnormally the protesters’ relatives. While affable them aftermost year does not abolish the past, it was important for us to accord them a belvedere to allotment their belief so their bequest would not be forgotten.
Their ascribe and accord in this activity fabricated acceptable a John Cotton Dana Award all the added rewarding. Exploring your library’s history can be difficult, abnormally if it involves bigotry and segregationist policies. At Alexandria Library, we’ve begin it is able-bodied account the effort.
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