By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Activist and civic leader E. (Ernest) George Minns 66, after a long battle with cancer, died July 26.
He was known best for his work to make sure that the Seatack community in Virginia Beach where he was born and raised, was respected and recalled in local and national history books as one of the first settlements of Free Blacks who withstood a bombardment from British warships during the War of 1812.
In 2013 the Seatack Community observed its 200-plus anniversary and then U.S. Congressman Scott Rigell, a Republican who represented most of Virginia Beach, included that observance in the Congressional Record.
Cong. Rigell noted the “Seatack community (as) the oldest African-American community in The United States.”
GUIDE archives from 1988 to 2003 and beyond illustrate Minns’ effort to fight for civil rights and political reforms as an advocate against the abuses of poor and Black people in his hometown.
He did so, he said, despite threats and intimidation from forces bent on deterring his activism. Many of those same battles Minns launched years ago are still being waged today.
Minns was raised in a civil rights family which he said established his pursuit for justice. His grandfather was a founding member of the Princess Anne County NAACP, currently the Virginia Beach NAACP.
It was a position to which Minns would ascend in 1987 for five terms.
Among his accomplishments as President was the successful establishment of the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission, the Minority Business Council, the Citizen Advisory Committee for each Police Precinct, just to name a few.
His civil rights push won the appointment of the First Black Judge in Virginia Beach and the employment of First Black Lawyer in the City Attorney’s Office of Virginia Beach.
Minns had his share of personal battles to fight. He was falsely arrested for alleged development fraud. He was released on a bond and had his day in court.
At the time Minns said the case was contrived by city leaders because he, as leader of the city’s NAACP, was trying to stop the city from shutting down Black student celebration of Greekfest on Memorial Day in 1988.
Greekfest involved thousands of Black college students which turned into a state police riot when officers sought to disburse students from the Beach Oceanfront Memorial Day Weekend in 1989.
The NAACP and other Black leaders had sought to get the city to plan events to deter students from, being disruptive, but were rebuffed, causing the melee.
A friend of Minns, Barbara Messner, born in Norfolk, has been a Virginia Beach resident over 40 years, “His strong faith and his courage to fight for our human rights, civil rights and constitutional rights are something I admire greatly,” she said.
“I learned so much about the Constitution from him, and his legal battles for justice. He fought longer and harder than anyone I’ve known in Virginia Beach. Everyone should learn from his example. I would like to see the city rename Seatack Elementary and call it E. George Minns Seatack Elementary School. May he Rest in Peace.”
In another story in 1990, Minns was involved in an incident at the Atlantic Apartments on Hope Avenue where the cars of the all-Black clientele were being carted off by towing companies without warning. Minns’ activism helped to remedy the issue.
That June of 1990, Minns criticized the city of Virginia Beach for summoning federal officials to the city to investigate incidents of the violent confrontations between Black and white youths on the Oceanfront.
Minns said the city itself should have handled the case and accused officials of building a case against Black youth to arrest and harass them.
At that time, fellow activist and Attorney James Gay of Norfolk was working his way using the courts to abolish the at-large system of elections in Norfolk.
Minns was one of the first in his city to do so.
In a July 15, 1992 edition of the GUIDE, Minns called for the city to abolish its system of electing the council and create wards to allow Blacks to elect “ candidates of their choice.”
A legal case is still challenging the system three decades later.
He also was one of the first to ask for the city to reform the system to provide more access for Blacks to participate in the city’s procurement system to compete for contracts to supply goods and services to the city.
That issue is still ongoing. Two years ago, the city hired a company to study the issue. City leaders are still working on a resolution two decades after Minns first addressed it.
“I met George Minns when I first came to Hampton Roads in 1993 as assistant news director at WTKR,” said Barbara Hamm Lee of WHRO.
“He was advocating for the Seatack community as he always did. He was passionate about his community and determined to see the same equity, equality, and fairness in treatment in Seatack that he saw in other Virginia Beach communities. He challenged me to have reporters come to Seatack and report on the good things happening in the community.
His advocacy will truly be missed.”
Virginia Beach resident Andrew Jackson is a member of the African-American Leadership Forum and a community advocate.
“Many in the elder community will remember his years as a civil rights investigator, his broad knowledge of the law,” said Jackson. “His many consecutive terms as President of the Virginia Beach Branch of the NAACP and lastly, his several consecutive terms as President of the Civic League of his beloved Historic Seatack Community with an established history written into the Record of Congress.
“I will remember him as my friend, the person that I could pick up the phone to call first – the person that I could both laugh and disagree with, and the person for whom I both mourn and celebrate,” Jackson continued.
“I say goodbye to George. His accomplishments and those of the community will not be forgotten. He can step off the train of life, the ride is over; so rest and peace are in order.”