Originally called Armistice Day in 1918 after the end of WWI, America began in 1954 to observe Veterans Day to recognize the service of individuals who served in the nation’s armed forces during war and peace times.
The now 99-year-old American Legion has a national network of “posts” to allow former and current military personnel to have a place to socialize and organize various activities and show their appreciation for the communities where they live.
American Legion Posts 5 and 190 have members – men, and women from all races – but they were formed by African-Americans originally during Jim Crow segregation.
Post 5 is the oldest of the two and was organized in 1933 with the original name of the “Unknown Soldier’s Post” housed in the Bethel Presbyterian Church on Princess Anne Road. It was later called the Colored Soldier’s Home.
On August 23, 1927, the American Legion Department of Virginia recommended the approval of a Charter to name it “Unknown Soldier’s Post 5.”
It was later named the Crispus Attucks Post Number 5, after the Black man who was one of the first killed during the opening days of the American Revolution at the Boston Massacre in 1770.
National leaders of the organization did not want that name “Crispus” attached to the name, but “Attucks” was acceptable because it was the last name of the Black hero’s owner. Black leaders of the organization later prevailed in that debate, according to the post’s historical documents
This debate coincided with the debate about allowing Black men into the Legion during the height of Jim Crow segregation, before the military was desegregated in 1948.
There were several instances before 1970 when Post 5 lacked a home, enough members and respect from the national Legion. It had a home on Church Street before it found a site on Wilson Road near Berkley and Campostella. Now it is located on Glen Rock Road in Norfolk.
Post 190 had an easier path to its current state. It was named for Black Army Sergeant William H. Harrison and founded in 1945.
Harrison, a Portsmouth native and machine gun sergeant was killed in action while serving with the 36th Infantry Regiment in Italy during World War II. His unit was attached to the 92nd Buffalo Infantry Division at Leghorn in 1944.
Post 190 began holding its meeting in Drew’s Hall, which was located on the corner of Chestnut and South Streets. The Post then began holding its meeting in the public clubroom of the Carver Homes Project. In May of 1956, the Post acquired a site at 2711 Peach Street, which was enlarged and refurbished, remaining there until August 31, 1973.
In July 1971, Cephas C. Wright, the incoming Commander, in his inaugural remarks, emphasized the new administration’s chief goal was to “BUILD! BUILD! BUILD!” to spark the action to realize a new Post home in the not too distant future. He acted to appoint a building committee with Finance Officer William E. Copeland as chairman.
Both Post 5 and Post 190 are located in the Second District of the Eastern area of the State American Legion, which comprises the cities of Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Virginia Beach.
There are over 52,000 Legionnaires in Virginia and over 2,000 in the Second District.
Charlie Johnson, Jr., is the Commander of Post 190 and has been a member since 1992. Johnson said that although Post 190 was founded by African-Americans, it, l now has a racially and gender diverse group of ‘Comrades” of 230. There are members who range in age from 18 years of age to 90.
Among its membership is one of the few veterans of WWII who was one of the first American Marines who was trained at the Historic Camp Montford, becoming an active duty Navy Captain.
Johnson is a Navy veteran who after he left the service used the G.I. to Bill to attend law school at William and Mary, practiced his craft in North Carolina for 20 years before returning to Hampton Roads.
As are other Posts, Johnson said Post 190 is socially engaged, sponsoring youths to attend the annual Boys and Girls State, youth oratorical contests, and annual Halloween event. The Post helps veterans apply for their Veterans Administration disability benefits and has annual Veterans Day events, including a celebration of the U.S. Marine Corps at their center.
“We think is very important that we be a part of the community and give back to the people who we fought to protect overseas,” said Johnson. “We want to show our appreciation for their support of us.”
In Norfolk, the current Commander of the Post 5 is Rodney Drummond, who has led the outfit for seven years. Drummond said Post 5’s new building is over 10,000 square feet and he and his 175 comrades are working on buying its headquarters like the Post 190 Drummond, 55 years old, was among the crew of the USS Iowa, in April of 1989 when one of its gun turrets exploded killing and injuring sailors. He had been in the Navy for nine and a half years and left the service disabled.
A decade later he was diagnosed with Acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a cancer of the myeloid line of blood cells, characterized by the rapid growth of abnormal cells that build up in the bone marrow and blood and interfere with normal blood cells.
Drummond said his Post directly sponsors similar events like Post 190 and other units. Drummond said apart from exposing the youth to activities which their expand their view of the world, he said: “there are thousands of dollars in scholarships they can access to attend college.”
“I would attend these events and would not see any Black children winning scholarships,” said Drummond. “They did not know about them. But now we are assuming they do.”
According to the history of Post 5, in 1970, it had no home and its charter was “Inactive but not revoked.” So Rufus Lofting Sr., a veteran became the “walking legionnaire.” For years, every day, he would walk the streets of Norfolk, especially Lambert’s Point in his Legion uniform seeking to recruit new veterans. With the help of Trudy Linebauker, a member of the all-female Post 118, he and 15 others were convinced to attend an all-White and male Post 327.
But the Black men did not feel comfortable and Lofting went back to walking and seeking a new post which he and his fellow Legionnaires did on Wilson Road in 1981.
“When I hear about that history and what those men went through, it is inspiring,” said Drummond. “How they fought to keep that charter. This is why I work so hard to serve our community and keep their dream alive.”
By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide