This Week in Historic Alexandria | Newsletter | City of Alexandria

This Week in Historic Alexandria
This Week in
Alexandria History
First Sit-Down Srike

America’s First
Sit-Down Strike 

Becoming the trademark tactic of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, the first sit-in occurred well before the era of social unrest that would characterize the decade of the 1960s. Prior to the famous Woolworth counter sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina, five courageous African-American youths staged the first deliberate and planned sit-in at the Alexandria “public” Library on August 21, 1939.

On March 17, 1939, attorney Samuel Wilbert Tucker and retired Army Sergeant George Wilson, walked through the doors of the segregated Queen Street Library in Alexandria, Virginia and requested an application for a library card. Library policy was to not issue library cards to persons of the colored race. Tucker passed the newly erected Alexandria library on a daily basis, yet as an African American he had to travel to the District of Columbia to have access to library facilities. Unsatisfied with the unequal access to educational facilities, Tucker decided to battle the system of Jim Crow through the courts.

A lawsuit was filed in the local court to force the librarian to issue a library card to Sergeant Wilson as a taxpaying citizen of the City of Alexandria. When the case was eventually heard on January 10, 1940, the judge rejected the petition for a library card for technical reasons, but  affirmed that “there were no legal grounds for refusing the plaintiff or any other bona fide citizen the use of the library.” The Virginia Public Assemblages Act of 1926 stated that both races were to be segregated within the same facility, therefore according to the law African Americans were unlawfully barred from the Alexandria Library. Within two days of the judge’s decision, two African-Americans applied for library cards. Yet they were refused by being informed that a new colored branch of the Alexandria library was under construction and that their application was under consideration. This was an obvious tactic to appease them until a separate colored branch could be opened. The colored branch was the Robinson Library, now the site of the Alexandria Black History Museum.

Although this first act of defiance against the system of Jim Crow did not garner the media attention, this was the first step towards the City of Alexandria seriously considering a colored branch for its African-American citizens and facing the issue of accessibility, however unequal, for all of its citizens.

On Sale Now
Gen. Robert E. Lee

THE “GENERAL’S TOUR” – Walking Tour of Robert E. Lee Sites in Alexandria, Saturday, August 29

The Lee-Fendall House will offer a guided walking tour of Lee family homes in Alexandria’s Historic Old Town on Saturday, August 29. The tour will begin at 1:00 PM at the Lee-Fendall House at 614 Oronoco Street, and will highlight locations and stories associated with the Confederate general’s life in Alexandria, his hometown from the age of five and residence of his “earliest and oldest friends.” The tour will last approximately 90 minutes. Tickets are available in advance for $10 through the museum’s Online Store, or for $15.00 at the door. Tour space is limited, so the purchase of tickets in advance is highly recommended. Participants are encouraged to wear comfortable shoes. FREE for Members!

Gadsby's Tavern

Special Note: Now through September 7 all Alexandria City Public School students, staff, and their families receive FREE Admission to Gadsby’s Tavern Museum and the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum.  This includes all regular tours and summer family programs except for Harry Potter’s Birthday tours.

Monday, August 17 – Alexandria Sister Cities Committee
City Hall, Sister Cities Room 1101, 301 King Street.

Regular monthly meeting. Free! 7 p.m. For further information, please call 703-746-4554.

Monday, August 17 – Gary Stephans’ Art of Ballroom Dance
The Athenaeum, 201 Prince Street
Fun classes to learn to dance or improve your dancing skills: fox trot, waltz, tango, swing, salsa, merengue, rumba, cha-cha, and samba. All level of dancers are welcome, with or without a partner. Discover little techniques that most people never learn about and become a relaxed and proficient social dancer in these small, personalized dance lessons! Tickets are available for each session online as follows: Basic Techniques, $15 per person, 7 to 7:45 p.m.; Advanced Techniques, $15 per person, 7:45 to 8:30 p.m.; attend both sessions for best results! Free practice session from 8:30 to 9 pm. For more information, please visit or call 703-505-5998.

Alexandria AssemblyTuesday, August 18 – Alexandria Assembly Dance Rehearsal
Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, 134 North Royal Street
Gadsby’s Tavern Museum’s performance dance group, the Alexandria Assembly, meets most Tuesday nights for practice and instruction. Monthly donations accepted. Prerequisite: dancers must have participated in one of the Museum’s Thursday night dance class series. Free! 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Please visit or call 703.746.4242 for more information.

Wednesday, August 19 – Alexandria Archaeological Commission 
Alexandria Archaeological Museum, 105 North Union Street, Suite 327

Regular monthly meeting. Free! 7 p.m. For further information, please call 703-746-4399.
Saturday, August 22 – Special Family Tours of Gadsby’s Tavern Museum
Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, 134 South Royal Street
This flexible tour format will allow families to start a tour as soon as they arrive and move through the museum at their own pace. Young guests will be able to connect with the museum through their peer tour guides, plus have fun with hands-on activities at the end of the tour.
Activities in the ballroom explore the science behind the historic ice well as part of National Ice Cream Month and include making (and tasting) ice cream!

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Gadsby’s Tavern was the center of social and political life in Alexandria and the new Federal City of Washington. The tavern served as the premier gathering place for residents – including George Washington – and visitors to eat, drink, learn, and influence history. $5 adults ($4 with AAA), $3 children ages 5 to 12, and 4 and under are free. Alexandria City Public School families and Blue Star Families are free and coupons, including the Key to the City, accepted. 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, please visit or call 703.746.4242.

Civil War SundaySunday, August 23 – Civil War Sunday
Alexandria Archaeology Museum, 105 North Union Street, #327
Explore the Civil War in Alexandria with Civil War Sundays.  See an original May 26, 1861, edition of The New-York Tribune detailing Colonel Elmer Ellsworth’s death in Alexandria, a Peeps diorama illustrating Ellsworth’s death, a TimeTravelers Passport exhibit featuring the Civil War drummer boy, a diorama of a heating system constructed in Alexandria to warm Civil War hospital tents during the winter of 1861, a cocked and loaded Wickham musket discarded in a privy during the 1860s, and an exhibit on a Lee Street archaeological site during the Civil War. Free!  1 to 5 p.m.  For more information, please or call 703.746.4399.

Sunday, August 23 – New Family Art Lab at the Apothecary Museum
Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, 105-107 South Fairfax Street
New this summer, guests can explore the Family Art Lab Sundays from 2-4pm June 28 through Labor Day weekend at the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, located at 105-107 S. Fairfax Street. The Lab features a new activity every week that brings together history, science, and art in a way all ages will enjoy. Families can come back throughout the summer and experience something new every time. No tour necessary to create in the Lab!

The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum in Old Town Alexandria is noted for its outstanding collection of medicinal herbs, shop furnishings, apothecary bottles and equipment, many still in their original location. It also has a spectacular collection of archival materials, including journals, letters and diaries, prescription and formula books, ledgers, orders and invoices. The names of famous customers appear in the documents, including Martha Washington, Nelly Custis, and Robert E. Lee. Lab only admission is $5 per family. If taking a tour, cost is included in regular admission. Alexandria City Public School families and Blue Star Families are free and coupons, including the Key to the City, are accepted. 2 to 4 p.m. For more information, please visit or call 703.767-3852.

On Exhibit through September 6– Exhibit: FIELDS 
The Athenaeum, 201 Prince Street
Join us for the opening reception of FIELDS, featuring the work of David Carlson and Pat Goslee, two abstract painters both deeply interested in spiritual exploration and energy fields. Free! Open Thursday through Sunday, 12 Noon to 4 p.m. For more information, please visit or call 703.548.0035.

Now on Exhibit – Journey to Be Free: Alexandria Freedmen’s Cemetery 
Alexandria Black History Museum, 902 Wythe Street 
A new exhibit tracing the 150-year history of the long-forgotten Freedmen’s Cemetery, its rediscovery and how the new Contrabands and Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial was created at the site.  Free, but donations are appreciated. Tuesday to Saturday: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday and Monday: Closed.  For more information, please call 703.746.4356.

Now on Exhibit – Their Fates Intertwined: The Lees of Alexandria in the War of 1812 
Lee-Fendall House and Gardens, 614 Oronoco Street
A new exhibit on the experiences of the Lee family in Alexandria during the War of 1812 examines the contributions of Alexandria’s citizens during the conflict that led to the writing of our national anthem through the lives of this iconic Virginia family. For further information, please or call 703.548.1789.

Fort WardNow on Exhibit – Fifty Years of Collecting: An Anniversary Exhibit of Objects from the Fort Ward Collection 
Fort Ward Museum, 4301 West Braddock Road
In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the opening of Fort Ward Museum & Historic Park, this new exhibition offers a glimpse into the growth and holdings of the Museum’s fine Civil War collection.The exhibit features some rare items related to the Defenses of Washington, such as an 1862 panoramic drawing of Fort Albany by the soldier-artist William Lydston, a folding camp chair that belonged to an officer in the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery, and a Lambley’s portable copying machine used by an officer from the 57th Massachusetts Infantry.   Objects that interpret the Union occupation of Alexandria, such as a proclamation declaring martial law in the city, are also featured.  Examples of newly acquired objects are a field desk with personal belongings owned by a captain in the 107th New York Infantry, and a John Rogers statuary group, “Uncle Ned’s School,” which aimed to portray the efforts of newly freed African Americans to better their lives through education in the postwar years.

Fort Ward is the best preserved of the extensive network of Union forts and batteries known as the Civil War Defenses of Washington. Free! Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.   For more information, please call 703.746.4848, or visit

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