By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
There are eight members of the Norfolk 17 among us now.
LaVera Forbes Brown, one of the Norfolk 17, the first group of Black students to desegregate six previously all-white schools in Norfolk, died February 9.
Cause of death was not provided by the family.
Forbes-Brown died a week after the city’s observance of the 54th anniversary of the day on February 2, 1959, when the 17 students walked into the history books.
Forbes Brown was in the 7th grade at Norview Junior High School (now Norview Middle) along with James Turner and Claudia Wellington.
Pat Turner was in the 8th grade at the school and is one of the remaining members of the famous group. Like Turner, Forbes Brown lived most of her life in Norfolk.
Norview Junior and High schools were just blocks away from the Chesapeake Gardens neighborhood.
But African-Americans could not attend the schools due to Virginia’s effort to evade complying with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision four years before declaring segregated schools illegal.
Turner said she and Forbes Brown grew up together in the quiet, close knit middle-income Black enclave of Chesapeake Gardens.
Turner was the oldest of the students that desegregated Norview Junior. Each morning they would muster at the corner of University and Johnston Street, she recalled.
“Then we would walk down Johnston, to Sewells Point Road to Middle Street to the school,” recalled Turner, who recently participated in the anniversary observance at the Slover Library.
“After school, we would meet at this small tree in front of the school. I stood there as each of them joined me at that point. That tree is still there standing tall just like we (the Norfolk 17) did throughout life.”
Turner recalls that, unlike the Norfolk 17 students that desegregated the high schools, the children at Norview Middle, were not provided rides or adult escorts to their historic appointment with history.
“I told LaVera and the others on the first day that I was their mother and I would look after them,” Turner recalled. “LaVera was one of my babies and I have lost another one, I am so heartbroken. She was a good friend and a beautiful friend and mother.”
Turner’s brother, James, and Claudia Wellington also have died.
Along with other family members Forbes Brown leaves behind two sons, Wade W. White and Albert L. White, Jr.
After LaVera Forbes graduated from Norview High School in 1964, she attended Norfolk State University. She was a Fleet Account technician for the U.S. Navy for many years and worked with J.C. Penny Retail stores.
Her funeral is slated for Feb. 20 at 11 a.m. at First Baptist Church Bute Street.