A story in the Nov. 11 Weekly on naming a new Alexandria elementary school should have said city rules, not state law, prohibit using the name of anyone who has not been dead at least five years. Also, Greensville County, Va., was misspelled. (Published 11/18/99)
A citizens committee appointed by the Alexandria School Board has recommended naming a new elementary school opening next year after legendary Alexandria lawyer and civil rights pioneer Samuel Wilbert Tucker.
The naming committee put Tucker's name at the top of a list of four prominent Alexandrians it thought suitable for the honor. If Tucker, who died in 1990, is selected by the School Board, the school opening in September in the western part of the city will have his name.
The School Board is scheduled to make its final decision Tuesday. School Board Chairman Stephen J. Kenealy said he could not predict the outcome but noted that the naming committee had met several times and worked hard to narrow a list of nearly 20 nominees. "I would be surprised if we did not honor the priorities set by the committee," he said.
The other nominated names, in a descending order of preference determined by the 11-member committee, are Armistead Lloyd Boothe, the state senator who fought the segregationist policies of the Harry Byrd political machine; Margaret Brent, a 17th century plantation owner who was the first American woman to seek the right to vote; and Albert Grenadier, a Circuit Court judge who was an advocate for several causes, including the removal of the American Nazi Party from the region.
There was intense lobbying for some candidates. Kenealy said he received 150 e-mails in just three days on behalf of war hero Rocky Versace, apparently rejected because he did not live in Alexandria very long. Gerald R. Ford was mentioned because he lived in Alexandria many years before he became president and sent his children to city schools, but state law prohibits naming a school after anyone who has not been dead at least five years.
Kenealy said the selection discussions so far have gone more smoothly than he expected. "It is a good example of the democratic process, open and above board," he said.
Tucker, born in Alexandria in 1913, attended the city schools through eighth grade, the limit for African Americans in the 1920s, then finished high school in the District and graduated from Howard University in 1933. A precocious student, he passed the Virginia bar examination at age 21 without having gone to law school.
The Inner City Civic Association, which nominated his name, provided a long list of personal and legal triumphs, many accomplished in parts of Virginia unfriendly to smart and aggressive black men. He sued to permit African Americans to use the Alexandria Public Library in 1938 and advised several young men who tried what may have been the first sit-ins of the U.S. civil rights movement. He rose to major in an Army combat unit in World War II. In the case of a Greenville County, Va., black man accused of murdering a well-known white resident, he challenged the common practice of excluding blacks from juries. He was an energetic opponent of school segregation, both as a litigator and as a leading official of the NAACP.
"The wonderful diversity and harmony that are hallmarks of our city were unrealized ideals when Mr. Tucker came of age," the nominating letter said. "At great risk to himself and his family, Samuel Tucker fought to make these ideals a reality."
Boothe died the same year Tucker did and was also an Alexandria native, a World War II veteran and a prominent lawyer who took a stand against school segregation. In the General Assembly, he helped block political boss Harry Byrd's effort to close the public schools rather than allow integration. In his nomination letter, City Council member David G. Speck said Boothe "sacrificed a political career that was likely to have made him Governor of Virginia to lead the fight against the Byrd machine."
Brent, nominated by the Alexandria Commission for Women, sailed to Maryland in 1638. With her sister and four indentured servants, she built a prospering farm in what is now St. Mary's County. Her business interests took her to court so frequently that the American Bar Association's Commission on Women has called her "the first woman lawyer in the world." Her attempts to win the right to vote failed, but she successfully purchased 11,000 acres in Virginia, including what is now part of Old Town Alexandria, and died on that plantation in 1671.
Grenadier, who died in 1985, was a World War II veteran and active Alexandria lawyer who fought for gun control and against the American Nazi Party, then headquartered in the area. His daughter Robin, who nominated him, said one of his opinions as a judge deeply influenced the movement to allow terminal patients to die with dignity. "Even people he ruled against tell me what a great judge and person he was," she said.