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Heritage Group Embraces All-Black Schools’ History

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By Leonard E. Colvin

Chief Reporter

New Journal and Guide

In 1956, Portsmouth’s I.C. Norcom and Charlottesville’s Burley High School secured unique positions in the Virginia high schools sports history books.

It was still during the era of racial segregation of the state’s public schools despite the federal court’s Brown decision striking down such a policy as illegal.

That year the two schools were the elite among Virginia’s 115 Black high schools. They completed the regular season 9-0 and none of their opponents scored against them.

But which of the schools would reign supreme was never determined. Leaders of the respective school divisions could not decide where the championship game would be played; so they were named co-champions.

They were co-champions of the Virginia Interscholastic Association (VIA), which was the governing organization of Black high school athletics bands, academic clubs and their faculty leaders before desegregation.

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The VIA was formed in 1954 when the original Virginia Interscholastic Athletic Association League (VIAL) (created in the late 1920s) was reorganized to include sports and academic activities including marching bands.

The VIA lasted until 1969, the year the state’s public schools were desegregated and all of the high schools had to join the Virginia High School League (VHSL).

Desegregation was a double-edge sword. While Blacks were allowed to attend once all-White schools with better facilities, school divisions closed or reassigned most of the historically Black schools.

Only Portsmouth’s I.C. Norcom, Norfolk’s Booker T. Washington, and Richmond’s Armstrong are still functioning as high schools.

The rest are gone and so are most of their athletic and scholastic history and accomplishments.

But three years ago, an effort to reclaim the student athletic and academic histories of those schools was set in motion, with the creation of the VIA Heritage Association (1954-1969).

“When the schools desegregated we abandoned the VIA, and over time forgot most of the history and achievements of those schools,” said Ernest Shaw, Public Affairs Director, board member and founding member of the VIA Heritage Association.

Shaw was a former sports writer, who once wrote for the Norfolk Journal and Guide back in the day. He is also one of the chief educators about the VIA and the histories of the membership schools.

“What we are trying to do now is reclaim that history and put it on display,” said Shaw. “Many young people have no idea about the history of historic Black high schools. We want to change that.”

The Association will be meeting in Chesapeake on August 15, as part of its statewide outreach to showcase their efforts and to sign up individual and institutional membership and secure sponsorship for its activities.

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The meeting will be held at the Cottages at Great Bridge at 625 Bettes Way in Chesapeake starting at 12 noon.

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