You can register to vote at the Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum on Sept. 8, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Although it is the same small brick building where longtime librarian Bertha Edwards helped people of color fill out forms and locate information in the segregated facility from 1945-1963, times have changed. Deloris Overton, the general registrar and director of elections will be on hand to help voters sign-up.
“Anybody can come,” Overton said in a recent phone interview. “It is open to any Virginia resident. We will be there from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. We are very excited about it and hope for a great turnout.”
Overton said if you can’t visit the upcoming event, you can still register to vote online or through the Division of Motor Vehicles. Or you can request and receive a voter registration form by mail. To register, you must be 18 years of older before Nov. 6.
The library was built in 1945 at 804 South Street. However, the library closed in 1962 after two local dentists, Dr. James Holley and Dr. Hugo A. Owens, successfully sued the City of Portsmouth and the Portsmouth Public Library. Libraries became integrated. The colored library relocated twice and opened as a museum in 2013.
Recently a staff member suggested the voter sign-up project. Specifically, the idea came from Bruce Ebert who worked in the library for many years. Now, he works as a services assistant at the museum.
“It occurred to Mr. Ebert that in this time of heightened political awareness, perhaps the building could again serve a greater purpose in being a historical place for current day residents to sign up to vote,” said Diane L. Cripps, curator of history for Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum, Portsmouth Museums, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum, and Lightship Portsmouth Museum.
“We proposed the idea to the Portsmouth City Registrar of Voters, Deloris Overton Short, and she was delighted to work with us to stage this public event,” Cripps said, in a recent email.
Cripps said, “In a place that was once a segregated library. . .you can declare your intent to vote, and join in the conversation about the future of our country,”
The library is located at 904 Elm Ave., Portsmouth.
By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide