By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
June 30 marked the 100th birthday of Joseph A. Jordan, a disabled WWII Vet, who distinguished himself as an activist-attorney, Norfolk city council member, jurist, and visionary.
Thanks to his nephew Rodney A. Jordan, and a Virginia Beach artist, Phil Miles, Jordan’s legacy is detailed in a 22-page booklet of black and white images of his life.
The younger Jordan is a member of the Norfolk school board and other states’ education panels and is a strong advocate of literacy.
In 2019, he was a member of the Commission on African-American History Education in the Commonwealth which was established by former Governor Ralph Northam that year. The Commission was co-chaired by Dr. Cassandra Newby-Alexander, Endowed Professor of Virginia Black History and Culture at Norfolk State University.
The commission, according to the Governor’s Executive Order, was designed “to examine the current ways that African-American history is described in the standards of learning and curriculum framework, and how that content is taught in classrooms.”
Two years ago, Jordan received a letter from Miles introducing himself as a graphic illustrator and creator of a graphic book series, he called “Ourstory.”
In his letter Miles wrote that “Ourstory Book of Amazing African-Americans” is a comprehensive series of biographies of little-known and well-known figures of Black History.
Targeted to youth but valuable to all ages, the mini-biography is an important resource to advance one’s knowledge and appreciation of history and contributions of African-Americans to the growth and development of America.”
Miles said he was inspired to contact Jordan, after attending a Commission “listening session” in March 2020 on the importance of Black history and the governor’s plan to introduce more of it into the school system.
“I wanted to offer my series for consideration,” Miles wrote to Jordan.
Recently, Jordan said he commissioned Miles to create a special edition of his “Uncle Joe” to honor Jordan’s legacy and contributions under the umbrella of his company “Gateway.”
On the opening page, the character “Oneil” welcomes the reader and introduces his other friends Sakuru, Kioteh, D.J. Ernesto, Luani, and Otis, a frisky canine.
O’neil then introduces the readers to the lobby and main check-out desk of a Norfolk library named for Jordan and members of the Newby Family: Physicians Dr. J.E. Newby, Sr., and his son, Dr. J.E. Newby, Jr., and his brother, Educator Dr. Thomas Newby.
In the following pages, the life of Jordan is unveiled from his birth in Norfolk in 1923, graduating from Booker T. Washington High School, joining the Army and his injury during the waning days of WWII when a jeep he was driving hit a land mine.
Jordan survived but he was paralyzed from the waist down. He spent four years in a veteran’s hospital rehabilitating.
Despite being bound to a wheelchair, he secured an undergraduate degree from Virginia Union, a Law Degree, and established a law firm in Norfolk.
He used the law firm to fight against Jim Crow, joining forces with community activist Evelyn Butts.
Butts loaned her name to the suit to end the state’s poll tax, which deterred Black people from voting. She then helped to direct his successful campaign to be the first Black person elected to the Norfolk city council since Reconstruction.
He was then appointed to the Norfolk General District Court Bench.
Jordan said that Miles has done other books of this nature but none of such a local historic figure as his uncle.
After contacting Norfolk Public Library, Jordan is donating two copies for each branch and additional copies to the Jordan-Newby Branch for the branch to distribute as part of their programming. “To me, it fits with the Believe in Learning Norfolk Summer of Learning initiative
Councilwoman Mamie Johnson is championing his cause which kicked off at the Jordan-Newby Library in June.
He plans to send copies to the Governor’s office, members of the Legislative Black Caucus, members of the Historic Commission, Norfolk City Council, local community groups focused on early childhood literacy such as Clever Communities in Action, and elders in the community who often share history with him.
The publication is available on AMAZON from Paul Miles Jr.’s Ourstory Books page for $10.95 plus the cost of shipping. Miles said the Jordan Edition is the 47th book of its kind and he has completed 10 volumes of the publications.
He said he was inspired in 1987 when he and his daughter were thumbing through a historic picture book and she eyed the Image of Dorie Miller, the famous Black sailor who was a messman, but managed to shoot down several Japanese planes that attacked the Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
Jordan said this storybook should be an enticing instrument not only for children but adults to consume and hone their knowledge of Hampton Roads’ Black history and culture.
“This area is so rich in historic figures and events that could be used as relevant content and material,” said Jordan. “We could produce one periodically. I think it would also encourage people to read and build their knowledge of history.”