“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Petersburg, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)

McKenney Library

Petersburg, Virginia

McKenney Library Marker image. Click for full size.
By Bernard Fisher, March 29, 2009
1. McKenney Library Marker
Inscription. Petersburg's main public library, the William R. McKenney Library, is housed in a fine dwelling constructed in 1859 by John Dodson, a prominent lawyer and mayor of Petersburg. After the Civil War, the Confederate General and railroad magnate Billy Mahone lived in the house, where he entertained such dignitaries as Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

The McKenney family gave the house to the City of Petersburg in 1923 to be used as a library in honor of their father, the well-known attorney William R. McKenney. Opened in 1924, the McKenney Library was segregated for decades, with white patrons allowed to use the main level and African Americans relegated to the basement. In 1960, several African-American ministers led an effort to desegregate the main level. The Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker and the Rev. R. B. Williams were arrested the next day, and the library closed. As a result, the African-American community held a meeting at Zion Baptist Church on Byrne Street to protest. Several months later, the library opened on an integrated basis, one the very first Petersburg institutions to be so integrated.

This quiet event is considered the turning point of the Civil Rights movement in Petersburg. Sit-ins at such places as Woolworth’s and Lee Park continued, and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., came to Petersburg to ask
Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail® Map image. Click for full size.
2. Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail® Map
Appomattox County
1. Winonah Camp/Mozella Price Home
2. Carver-Price School
3. Education in 1800's Rural Virginia

Buckingham County
4. One-Room Schoolhouse
5. Carter G. Woodson Birthplace

Cumberland County
6. Hamilton High School
7. Rosenwald School at Cartersville
8. Jackson Davis

Amelia County
9. Russell Grove Presbyterian Church and School
10. Mrs. Samantha Jane Neil

Chesterfield County
11. Virginia State University

12. Earliest Known Public High School for African Americans in Virginia
13. McKenney Library
14. The Peabody-Williams School

Dinwiddie County
15. Southside Virginia Training Center
16. Rocky Branch School
17. Early Education in Dinwiddie County

Nottoway County
18. Blackstone Female Institute
19. Mt. Nebo Church
20. Ingleside Training Institute

Lunenburg County
21. The People's Community Center
22. St. Matthew's Lutheran Church Christian Day School

Prince Edward County
23. Prince Edward County Public Schools
24. R. R. Moton High School
25. Farmville Female Seminary Association
26. First Baptist Church
27. Beulah AME Church
28. Hampden-Sydney College

Charlotte County
29. Southside Virginia Community College - John H. Daniel Campus
30. Charlotte County Library
31. Salem School

Halifax County
32. Meadville Community Center
33. Mary M. Bethune High School
34. Washington-Coleman Elementary School
35. Mizpah Church

Mecklenburg County
36. Thyne Institute
37. Boydton Academic and Bible Institute

Brunswick County
38. Southside Virginia Community College - Christanna Campus
39. Saint Paul's College
40. Hospital and School of the Good Shepherd
41. Fort Christanna
the Rev. Walker to serve as his Executive Director. Over the course of several visits, the Rev. King participated in door-to-door voter registration drives and spoke at several churches and at Virginia State University.

In 1980, Wayne Crocker, an African American, was named Director of the Petersburg Public Library, dramatically illustrating the great success of the forces unleashed by the desegregation of the McKenney Library in 1960.
Erected by Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail®. (Marker Number 13.)
Marker series. This marker is included in the Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail marker series.
Location. 37° 13.514′ N, 77° 24.134′ W. Marker is in Petersburg, Virginia. Marker is at the intersection of South Sycamore Street (U.S. 301) and Marshall Street, on the left when traveling south on South Sycamore Street. Click for map. Marker is in this post office area: Petersburg VA 23803, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. McKenney House (a few steps from this marker); Weddell-McCabe-Chisholm House (about 500 feet away, measured in a direct line); Joseph Jenkins Roberts (about 600 feet away); Peabody High School
McKenney Library (S Sycamore St & Marshall St) image. Click for full size.
By Bernard Fisher, March 29, 2009
3. McKenney Library (S Sycamore St & Marshall St)
(approx. 0.2 miles away); Formation of the Southern Methodist Church (approx. 0.2 miles away); Lincoln In Petersburg (approx. 0.2 miles away); Poplar Lawn (approx. ¼ mile away); Earliest Known Public High School for African Americans in Virginia (approx. ¼ mile away). Click for a list of all markers in Petersburg.
Regarding McKenney Library. On the upper panel is a headline from the The Progress and Index-Appeal dated Saturday, May 26, 1923 “Petersburg is given free public library”.

On the upper left is a photo of “The William R. McKenney Library, c. 1925.” Library Photo courtesy of William R. McKenney Library

On the lower left is a photo of the three men who led the library sit-in. The caption reads “The Rev. R. B. Williams (left), the Rev. Milton Reid (center), and the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker led the sit-in at McKenney Library in March, 1960. More than 140 people participated, including many students from Peabody High School and Virginia State University”. Photo of Reverends Williams, Reid and Walker courtesy of Virginia State University Archives
Also see . . .
McKenney Library image. Click for full size.
By Bernard Fisher, March 29, 2009
4. McKenney Library
 Virginia's Retreat. Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail. (Submitted on July 7, 2009, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.) 
Categories. African AmericansCivil RightsNotable PersonsWar, US Civil
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia. This page has been viewed 937 times since then and 77 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on , by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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