Samuel Tucker: Unsung Hero of the Civil Rights Movement
Samuel Wilbert Tucker
Samuel Wilbert Tucker was born on June 18, 1913, at 918 Queen Street. During his youth, he attended Parker-Gray School and graduated from Armstrong High School in Washington, D.C. Attending the segregated schools left a deep an impression on him that would later fuel his fire to fight for civil rights. Following high school, Tucker matriculated to Howard University, graduating in 1933. Tucker pursued independent legal training after college and in 1934, he passed the bar at the age of 20. On December 27, 1934, he was sworn in as an attorney.
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Tucker represented African Americans in civil and criminal cases in Alexandria and Southside Virginia.
On August 21, 1939, Tucker sent five young African American men to stage a peaceful protest at the whites-only library at 717 Queen Street in Alexandria, VA. When their request for a library card was refused, they sat down quietly to read. Tucker had coached them on how to comport themselves and was their legal defense when they were later charged with disorderly conduct. The charges against the men were dropped and in September, the court heard Tucker’s petition, agreeing that African American citizens of Alexandria should have access to a library. When the small new segregated facility, the Robert H. Robinson Library, opened the following year, Tucker refused the invitation of a library card. The goal of integrating the library on Queen Street would take another 20 years.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Tucker became the leading attorney for the NAACP in Virginia. He worked tirelessly on the unsuccessful appeal of the death sentences for the “Martinsville Seven,” and began his crusade to end segregation in public school systems. He appeared at the Supreme Court at least five times, insisting that the Supreme Court increase its efforts to force states to desegregate schools. He ran for Congress twice to show that African American citizens have a voice in government.
Samuel Wilbert Tucker died on October 20, 1990.
Tucker’s legacy continues, as the Alexandria Circuit Court dismissed all charges against the sit-in participants on October 18, 2019. Although the five African American residents had been charged with disorderly conduct, the Court found that they were “lawfully exercising their constitutional rights of free assembly and speech, and the right to petition the government to alter the established policy of sanctioned segregation at the time of their arrest.” “Sitting peacefully in a library reading books … was not in any fashion disorderly or likely to cause acts of violence.”
America's First Sit-Down Strike: The 1939 Alexandria Library Sit-In is a lesson plan for teachers on Tucker's contribution to the Civil Rights Movement.