We are celebrating Black History Month by publishing texts of historical markers in the Old Town and Parker Gray Historic District.
Today we continue with individuals who made a great impact in the community and beyond. One such person was Samuel W. Tucker. In her book, “Samuel Wilbert Tucker, The Story of a Civil Right Trailblazer,” Nancy Notes Silcox tells his story.
Tucker was born in Alexandria in 1913. If you’ve ever walked along Queen Street between Washington and Route 1, you've walked in Tucker’s footsteps. He lived at 916 Queen Street, in a neighborhood that became known as “Uptown” in the 1960s and is now part of the Parker-Gray Historic District. His father’s real estate office was located at 901 Princess Street.
Tucker attended schools in Alexandria, including Parker Gray. After graduating from Howard University, he passed the bar exam. He went to work arguing cases to help end discrimination against people of color.
In 1939, Tucker led a sit-in protest at the Alexandria Library on Queen Street. His home was just two blocks away. One of the men who participated was Otto Tucker, his brother. A new State Highway Marker and an interpretive panel in front of the library tells some of the story.
Perhaps the outcome that meant the most to Tucker was Green v. County School Board of New Kent County (1968). In the landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court had ordered the end to discrimination in public schools. Some jurisdictions in Virginia found creative ways around the new law. One was the so-called “freedom of choice.”
As Silcox points out, “The reality of freedom of choice was that no white student chose to go to black public schools. Very few black students chose to face discrimination at white public schools. School boards used freedom of choice to keep public schools segregated.”
Tucker argued the case before the Supreme Court and won. The Court ordered school boards to initiate effective plans to end discrimination. As the Virginia Historical Society notes, the percentage of southern black students attended integrated schools jumped from 32 percent in 1968-1969 to 79 percent in 1970-1971.
In 2002, the Office of Historic Alexandria did an interview with Elsie Thomas, the only daughter of Samuel Tucker (he had three sons). She describes having both black and white neighbors with no segregation except with the churches.
In their book, "African Americans of Alexandria, Virginia," the authors tell us Tucker passed away in Richmond, and was laid to rest in Arlington Cemetery.
Robert Robinson Library, 902 Wythe, southwest corner of North Alfred and Wythe streets
Robert Robinson Library, 1940
In the summer of 1939, Attorney Samuel W. Tucker organized six youths – William Evans, Otto Tucker, Edward Gaddis, Morris Murray, Clarence Strange and Robert Strange – for a “sit-in” at the segregated Alexandria Public Library, protesting the denial of access to the African-American community. The “sit-in” is believed to have been the earliest in America. The arrest of five of these young men and their court case, pleaded by Mr. Tucker, resulted in a separate facility for African Americans being built here, at 638 North Alfred Street, the present location of the Alexandria Black History Resource Center.
The library is named after the Reverend Robert Robinson, a 19th century minister at the Roberts Chapel M.E. Church, in the 600 block of S. Washington Street. With Mrs. Evelyn Roper Beam as its first librarian, the Robert Robinson Library opened its doors to the African American community on April 24, 1940.