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Wed, 06.18.1913

Samuel Tucker, Attorney born

Samuel Tucker

*Samuel Tucker was born on this date in 1913. He was a Black lawyer and a cooperating attorney with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Samuel Wilbert Tucker was born in Alexandria, Virginia. His father, Samuel A. Tucker, a real estate agent and NAACP member, and teacher mother saw to his formal and informal education. Although Alexandria provided no high school for black children, after graduating from 8th grade, he had to "bootleg" a high school education across the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., at Armstrong High School. Black Virginia children commuted by streetcar.

In June 1927, when Tucker was 14, he, two brothers, and a friend refused to leave their seats after a streetcar crossed the river into Alexandria, despite the request of a white woman who believed one of the seats was designated only for whites. She swore out a warrant charging them with disorderly conduct and abusive language. The police levied no fine upon the 11-year-old Otto Tucker but fined Samuel Tucker $5 plus court costs and his older brother George $50 plus court costs, claiming that as eldest, he should have known better. However, on appeal, an all-white jury found the young men not guilty. 

Tucker began drafting deeds to help his father at an early age and began reading the law books of Tom Watson, a lawyer who shared an office with his father. Samuel attended Howard University. He earned his undergraduate degree in 1933. Tucker soon qualified for the Virginia bar exam but had to wait till June 1934, when he reached age 21, to begin practicing law. After two years with the Civilian Conservation Corps, Tucker and his friend George Wilson (a retired army sergeant) began dismantling segregation in Alexandria, first at the public library that opened in August 1937 but which refused to issue cards to black residents.

Tucker twice ran for U.S. Congress in the 4th District (17 southern Virginia counties, including Greensville). Though Tucker knew he would never win more than 30% of the vote against the powerful incumbent, he believed the battles were important to register the protests and aspirations of black voters in the district.

Tucker argued and won several civil rights cases before the Supreme Court of the United States, including Green v. County School Board of New Kent County which, according to The Encyclopedia of Civil Rights In America, "did more to advance school integration than any other Supreme Court decision since Brown." In 1976, the NAACP honored Tucker by awarding him the William Robert Ming Advocacy Award for the spirit of financial and personal sacrifice displayed in his legal work. Samuel Tucker died on October 19, 1990; he was survived by his wife Julia. They had no children. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

In 1998, Emporia, Virginia, dedicated a monument in Tucker's honor, with an inscription calling him "an effective, unrelenting advocate for freedom, equality, and human dignity – principles he loved – things that matter." Tucker once said: "I got involved in the civil rights movement on June 18, 1913, in Alexandria. I was born black."  In 2000, Alexandria, Virginia, dedicated a new school, Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School, to Tucker in honor of his life's work in the service of desegregation and education.

In 2014, the city's library began collecting donations for the Samuel W. Tucker Fund to expand a collection relating to civil rights history. Also in 2000, the Richmond City Council voted to rename a bridge formerly named after Confederate General J. E. B. Stuart after Tucker, despite controversy. In 2001, the Virginia State Bar's Young Lawyers Conference implemented the Oliver Hill/Samuel Tucker Institute, named for Oliver Hill and Tucker. The institute seeks to reach future lawyers, particularily minority candidates, at an early age to provide them with exposure and opportunity to explore the legal profession they might not otherwise receive. Since 2001, the Oliver W. Hill & Samuel W. Tucker Scholarship Committee has presented scholarships to deserving first-year law students at Virginia law schools and Howard University.

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