By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Today, Virginia Beach, the state’s largest city, is a patchwork of seven voting districts and a number of neighborhoods, home to a variety of economically and socially diverse residents. In the early 1960s a large swatch of land called Princess Anne County, adjacent to a slice of terra called Virginia Beach, merged and formed the city we know today.
Before that merger the county was home to communities inhabited mostly by African-Americans.
In the coming months Virginia Beach Historian, Edna Hendrix, who has written two books about the city’s African-American historical legacy, is using a small grant from the city to collect and write about the history of 25, or more of these historic Black communities that she has identified which once existed in old Princess Anne County. She is working under the title of “Project African-American communities of Princess Anne County.”
Another effort, to be undertaken by Cheryl A. Snowden, another Black historian at the Beach, is using a city grant also to research specifically, the history of the oldest Black community in that city, which dates back to the War of 1812. Her project is called “Project Seajack.” Eventually their labor of love will be written as research papers for public and scholarly consumption by city officials and patrons of the city’s public library.
Right now the two are traveling about the city of Virginia Beach and other research centers in Richmond, Washington D.C. and Petersburg, Virginia searching for documents and other resources to write their papers and unearth information about these historic Black communities. Hendrix said she identified many of communities using census records, and old land books, recorded deeds and just general recollection of current residents.
Another tool is the Sam’s Map, developed in the 1920s, which charted the neighborhoods of the county and specifically designated the “colored” ones on it. Hendrix said that among the communities long gone, she is seeking information about two which were named “Colored Ghent.” She says if anyone knows of its history, please contact her. But one of the most important resources the two historians hope will step forward are people who once lived or worked in the communities when they were mostly Black enclaves.
“We want people to come forth and tell their stories so we can have a more accurate picture of the history and people of the communities,” said Hendrix. “We not only want their memories but pictures, news articles and church bulletins. These are very important resources sitting around in people’s closets and attics..” Hendrix said that while some are still mostly Black sections of the city, such as Seatack or Burton Station, many of the names of these once all Black communities are not associated with that history now.
Many of the areas have been transformed by residential and industrial redevelopment. Kempsville, Oceana, Stumpy Lake, Creed, Pungo, Centerville, Black Water. Reedstown, Newsome Farms and others are among the communities Hendrix mentioned. There are neighborhoods in the city of Norfolk, according to Hendrix, that border or are in the city proper, which were once were part of Princess Anne County before they were annexed.
For instance, the neighborhood of Glenrock, which sits near the Military Circle Mall complex, is one example, and there was even a Broad Creek section of the county. One facet these communities had in common were churches, lodge halls or other buildings which served as community gathering places. Some had small wood frame two or three-room schoolhouses.
While most of the schools are gone, about 15 of the old churches still stand in Virginia Beach, such as the Morning Star Baptist Church in Beachwood and Ebenezer Baptist Church near Burton Station.
Many of the old fraternal lodges are gone and so are the businesses which served them. During the days of racial segregation, regardless of the distance from the facility, Blacks children from all of the communities were assigned to the Princess Anne County Training School, which was located in the Kempsville section of the county. Princess Anne County Training School later expanded in size and the facility was renamed Union Kempsville High School in 1962. In 1969, the high school closed after city-wide integration of schools started in Virginia Beach. The last class graduated in 1969.
“With the exception of Seatack, nobody has ever done this kind of research on the communities and neighborhoods Black people called home,” said Hendrix. “We know there are a lot of people who recall those communities and we are hoping they will share those memories with us for current and future generations.” If you wish to assist either Hendrix or Snowdown, send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.