McKenney Library

McKenney Library (HMDKQ)

Location: Petersburg, VA 23803
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Country: United States of America
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N 37° 13.514', W 77° 24.134'

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Petersburg, Virginia

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 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.
Marker Number13
Placed ByCivil Rights in Education Heritage Trail?
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 at 10:06am PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)18S E 286873 N 4122562
Decimal Degrees37.22523333, -77.40223333
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 37° 13.514', W 77° 24.134'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds37° 13' 30.84" N, 77° 24' 8.04" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)804, 434, 757
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 121-199 US-301 ALT, Petersburg VA 23803, US
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