Samuel W. Tucker: A Leader Changes an Unfair Law
“Where the state has undertaken to educate children, the state must afford equal opportunity to all.” — Samuel Wilbert Tucker, 1969
Samuel Tucker was born on June 18, 1913, in Alexandria, Virginia. He graduated from Howard University in 1933 and began practicing law in Alexandria. He became a Civil Rights lawyer who fought for the desegregation of Virginia's public schools in the 1950s and 1960s.
Samuel Tucker was an Alexandria citizen who could not go to the Queen Street library to read a book because he was Black. He thought this was unfair. He decided to do something so that the library would be open to everyone.
One day Samuel Tucker called some friends together and told them his plan. He said, "Go into the library tomorrow. Sit down and be quiet. Soon people will call the police. When the police come, they will arrest you. Go quietly with the police when they take you to jail. I will get you out of jail when I tell everyone that Blacks have the same rights as whites to use the library." The friends agreed to the plan and went to the Queen Street library the next day.
Samuel Tucker knew the laws of Alexandria had to work for everyone - no matter if you were white or Black. Tucker was the lawyer for his Black friends who were arrested for sitting in the library. He came into the courtroom to defend his friends and keep them from going to jail.
The judge in the courtroom listened to the reason why the men were arrested. The police said that they were not supposed to be in a library for whites. Then Samuel Tucker began to speak. He told the judge that the men were citizens of Alexandria. "All the white citizens have a library to use. All the Black citizens do not have a library to use," said Tucker. "The men must not go to jail for using the library because the library should be for everyone."
Samuel Tucker was a good lawyer and an important leader. He proved that one person can change something that is not fair to everyone. His friends did not go to jail. The judge did not punish the men for sitting in the library. A library was built in Alexandria for Blacks a year after Tucker and his friends were in the courtroom. Today everyone may use the library in Alexandria. Samuel Tucker died on October 19, 1990.
Dedicating Our School to Mr. Tucker
On October 19, 2000, Superintendent Herbert Berg, Elsie V. Thomas, and School Board Chairman Stephen J. Kenealy unveiled the portrait of Samuel W. Tucker that hangs in the lobby of the school named for the civil rights attorney. Thomas is the sister of Samuel Tucker.
Approximately 400 people attended the hour-long event, which featured remarks by Chairman Kenealy and Alexandria Mayor Kerry Donley. The dedication on October 19 marked the 10th anniversary of Samuel Tucker's death. The Keynote speaker was Lyndia Person, one of the students Tucker represented in the Emporia, Va., school desegregation case. She is now the Deputy Commonwealth Attorney of Sussex County, Virginia.
Tucker Elementary students participated in the celebration by singing songs and reading essays and poetry inspired by Mr. Tucker.