Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Robert Robinson Branch of the Alexandria Public Library (Alexandria, VA) and the 1939 Sit-Down Strike

The Robert Robinson Branch of the Alexandria Public Library was built in 1940 in response to "The 1939 Sit-Down Strike."  The strike began when five African American men entered the Barrett Branch on Friday, August 21, 1939 in an attempt to receive service from the library (the Barrett Branch was for whites only). When service was denied, the men refused to leave and were arrested. A law suit was filed but was later dismissed. The Robert Robinson Branch ceased operation in the 1960s as a result of integration. The branch is now part of the Alexandria Black History Museum.

Sources: "1939 Alexandria Library Sit-in." Alexandria Library. Alexandria Library, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2011. ; "The History of the Alexandria Black History Museum: The Sit-Down Strike." Alexandria Black History Museum. City of Alexandria, 1995-2011. Web. 29 Jan. 2011. ; Battles, David M. The History of Public Library Access for African Americans in the South or, Leaving Behind the Plow. Lanham: Scarecrow, 2009. 82-83. Print.

Update 10/15/2012:

You can read more about the Robert Robinson Branch at the following link  from the City of Alexandria, Virginia website:


Update 12/11/2012:

Several sit-ins took place at libraries in the Southern United States during the pre-Civil Rights Era. The most famous is the "Tougaloo Nine Sit-in",  which took place at the main branch of the Jackson, Mississippi Municipal Library in Jackson, Mississippi on March 27, 1961:

The Tougaloo Nine and the Sit-in at the Jackson Mississippi Municipal Library

Update 08/18/2014:

There are plans to have a celebration marking the 75th anniversary of "The 1939 Sit-Down" strike on August 21, 2014 at the Barrett Branch of the Alexandria Public Library in Alexandria, Virginia. The following link is to an article written by Mary Ann Barton of the West Alexandria Patch about the celebration:


Also, Larry T. Nix has posted a piece relating to the celebration of the "1939 Sit-Down Strike" on his blog, "The Library History Buff Blog". Below is a link to his post:


The following resolution was introduced earlier this year by the Virginia General Assembly:


Update 08/21/2014:

Tom Joyner's "Little Known Black History Fact" column on Black America Web includes an article by D.L. Chandler on "The 1939 Sit-Down Strike". Click on the link below to view:


Update 11/03/2014:

 Some attempts by African Americans to integrate segregated libraries were met with violence. For example, on September 15, 1963, two African American ministers were attacked by a mob when they tried to enter the Anniston Public Library in Anniston, Alabama:

Integration and the Anniston Public Library, Anniston, Alabama

Update 11/04/2014:

  The November/December 2014 issue of American Libraries features a short piece on the 75th anniversary of the sit-in at the Barrett Branch of the Alexandria Public Library in Alexandria, Virginia. The citation is below:

"Library Marks 75th Anniversary of First Sit-In." American Libraries 45.11/12 (Nov./Dec. 2014): 17. Print.

Update 11/06/2014:

    The sit-in at the Barrett Branch of the Alexandria Public Library in Alexandria, Virginia is mentioned in the following master's thesis:

Cutter, Jamie Irene. Getting by at the Benjamin Mays Black Branch: Library Access for African Americans in Jim Crow South Carolina, 1940-1971. MLIS thesis. San Jose State University, 2011. 54. Pdf.

Update 08/22/2015:

A presentation on marketing the African American history of libraries was given at the 9th National Conference of African American Librarians (NCAAL) in St. Louis, Missouri on August 6th by Rose Dawson of the Alexandria Public Library. The highlight of the presentation was the 75th anniversary celebration of the 1939 sit-in at the Barrett Branch of the Alexandria Public Library:

Dawson, Rose. "Marketing the African American History of Your Library". 9th National Conference of African American Librarians (Program Booklet). St. Louis, Mo.: Black Caucus of the American Library Association, 2015. 42. Print.

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