Mrs. Josephine McBride, a long time resident of the Norfolk Lindenwood Community, died November 5. At 108-years of age, she was one of the longest living residents of the city.
Mrs. McBride, a member of First Baptist Church, Bute Street, was honored for being a good neighbor by the Civic League of the Lindenwood community during a neighborhood reunion several years ago. It was one of many such honors bestowed upon her.
In a 2013 story in the New Journal and Guide when she was 104-years-old, she said, “People ask me what is the secret for living so long. I say it is due to me being kind and respectful to others. More so, it is all in God hands … and His grace and mercy.”
Our story then recounted her career as a member of the nurses’ staff at Norfolk Community Hospital and her memories of growing up under Jim Crow into today’s desegregated world.
Born Josephine Chambers, in Delton, South Carolina, her mother, Ethel, died when she was three years-old. Her father, John, moved his family about until they landed in Anniston, South Carolina where the family worked on a farm.
In the 1930s, there were few opportunities for children of Black farmers to attend school in rural South Carolina.
“So a friend of mine told her mother that I wanted to get an education,” McBride recalled. “So she arranged to have the family of an executive of North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company, the Demmons of Greenville, South Carolina, to adopt me.”
“Well, I was invited to the Demmons’ home just to see if I liked it,” she recalled. “They said I could stay a week to see if I liked it.
“Once they figured I did, they adopted me. I became Josephine Demmons, and they enrolled me into Greenville High School.”
After she graduated in 1933, she received nurses training at Lincoln Hospital in Durham, North Carolina.
In 1937, she moved to Norfolk to secure a job as a nurse at Norfolk Community Hospital.
“At that time, it was a one-story building in the 800 block of Rugby Street (in Lindenwood),” she recalled. “I lived in the nurses cottage which sat next to it. I worked my way up to Nurses Supervisor over 38 years before I retired.”
McBride met Fostine Roach, who was the head nurse at the time and the two established a lifetime friendship.
Until it closed in the mid-1990s, Norfolk Community Hospital (NCH) was the only hospital facility which served the city’s Black community during the Jim Crow era. When transplanted from Rugby to Corprew Avenue (in an area where Norfolk State University sits today), it expanded from 25 beds to 138 beds and was one of the most advanced Black-run facilities in the South. The vacated building was razed after years of falling into structural decay.
Mrs. McBride recalled her early days at NCH as very busy ones for nurses, support personnel and doctors.
But she did have time to let her hair down and socialize. She loved to dance and the waltz was her favorite and it helped her make a very special connection.
“I was at a dance one night. I noticed this young man and I walked up to him and asked him if he wanted to dance,” she recalled. “We became very good friends and eventually I became Mrs. Elwood McBride.”
The union produced two children, twins, Joseph and Josephine.
After she retired from Norfolk Community, McBride said she had more time to devote to serving her community and home church, Norfolk’s Historic First Baptist on Bute Street. There she was a Sunday School teacher, missionary worker, and other duties as she was assigned.
Mrs. McBride told the GUIDE in 2013 she was happy to see the many social, economic and technological changes during her lifetime.
In 1898 when she was born, Jim Crow was being imposed, the Spanish American war was underway, Pepsi-Cola had been invented, and the first automobile was sold.
“I recall the first President I voted for was Franklin D. Roosevelt,” she said. “I am very proud of our first Black president Barack Obama and the (Civil Rights Movement) Dr. King led which made his election possible.”
Mrs. McBride recalled the oppressive indignities she and other Blacks had to endure during the days of Jim Crow in Norfolk.
“If you shopped downtown on Granby Street, they wanted our money, but they did not want to treat us equally,” she recalled. “If you tried on a hat, you had to wear a stocking cap so you hair would not touch the fabric.”
“I recall I attended a professional meeting in Williamsburg and the Blacks could not enter the front door of the conference center to attend a luncheon,” she continued.
Mrs. McBride said in 2013 she was disappointed that Blacks were still fighting for dignity and voting rights. She was even more disappointed by the barriers, she said, Black have created for themselves by not availing themselves to educational opportunities. She cited the high rates of poverty, the re-segregation of the public schools and the violence young Blacks inflict on each other.
“But I am glad to be here to see it all,” she said.
By Leonard E. Colvin