Petersburg, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
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
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. Touch 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 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). Touch for a list and map 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 . . . Virginia's Retreat. Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail. (Submitted on July 7, 2009, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.)
Categories. • African Americans • Civil Rights • Notable Persons • War, US Civil •
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on July 7, 2009, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia. This page has been viewed 993 times since then and 32 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on July 7, 2009, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.