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Civil Rights History

Matt Spangler's foray into filmmaking began with a stroll around his neighborhood.

"I was living in Old Town at the time, just walking around my neighborhood, and ran across what was then called the Black History Resource Center. There was a stone tablet outside commemorating the nation's first sit-in in 1939, which I thought was pretty interesting," he said.

The tablet told the tale of a five-man sit-in — considered the first in the nation — to protest the "separate but equal" treatment of African-Americans. The sit-in, held at a then whites-only Alexandria Library at 717 Queen St., was organized by attorney Samuel Wilbert Tucker.

Spangler's 1999 documentary film "Out of Obscurity: The Story of the 1939 Alexandria Library Sit-In" chronicles this under-appreciated moment in the Civil Rights struggle. He approached the Black History Museum with the idea; after getting the greenlight, he wrote a script and researched the subject. Spangler said a small grant from the Office of Historic Alexandria helped him complete the work.

Another big help was a connection with professor from the University of Virginia who had made a Civil Rights documentary in the 1980s, and had archival interview footage with some of the now-deceased members of the protest.

The former Old Town resident, who now lives in Belleview, said he's honored to have the film shown at the first Alexandria Film Festival and is proud to have had the opportunity to create it.

"I had always dreamed of making my own documentary," he said.

<1b>— Greg Wyshynski