By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
History was made in Virginia Beach on January 3, when three African Americans were sworn-in to the city council, bringing to four the number of Black members on the council.
Newly elected members Dr. Amelia Ross-Hammond, (Dist. 4), Chris Taylor (Dist. 8) and Jennifer Rouse (Dist.10) joined Sabrina Wooten (Dist. 7), whose term was not up for re-election.
Rouse, replacing her husband Aaron Rouse who is running for the state Senate, and Chris Taylor are the two newest faces on the city council.
Wooten was appointed to the council in 2018 to serve out the term of Robert “Bobby” Dyer” who ascended to mayor. She won on her own in 2020
and her current term ends in 2024. Wooten is the first African American council member to win a term sequentially after being appointed or elected.
Dr. Amelia Ross Hammond was on council from 2013 to 2016 before she lost her seat.
During her previous tenure on council, she served the Kempsville district.
Now she is reclaiming a seat on council, this time representing District 4 which is new with no incumbent and the largest majority-minority district. It is the largest and the most racially diverse of the 10
single members districts which also includes Kempsville.
In a brief interview with the GUIDE on the day the new council was sworn in, Ross-Hammond noted that her expansive district is the home of not only African Americans, but also Filipinos, Hispanics and Whites.
She said that her district is an economic hub of the city which includes the Town Center, Sandler Center and various other industrial engines of the city.
Ross Hammond is the founder and the chair of the Virginia Beach African American Cultural Center which after all of the funding is secured will be built in the Kempsville section of the city.
She said making the VAACC a reality, rebuilding many of the city’s aging elementary schools, a more sophisticated and multi-model transpiration system and more affordable housing are among her priorities that she will lobby for during her new tenure on council.
“I am very excited again to have this opportunity to share my visions of helping Virginia Beach move forward,” said Ross-Hammond, a retired NSU Political Science Professor. “I have lived here all my life. I see
people of different races and backgrounds each day that inspire me to make Virginia Beach a place where everyone is welcome to live work and play.”
The increase in the number of Black members of council in Virginia Beach is due to the federal courts abolishing the city’s then existing at-large/districts system of voting.
In 2021 the U.S. Federal District Court in Norfolk ruled that the system violated the Voting Rights Act.
Under the old system, a candidate running at-large in the Kempsville, for example could secure enough votes to win that district. But voters not living in that district could also vote for candidates in Kempsville nullifying the choice of the residents of that area.
The federal court ruled this was the reason why African Americans could not choose candidates of their choice.
The city then was forced to draw 10 single member districts to elect council by residents living in those districts only. The city mayor is elected at-large.
In 1965 when the landmark Federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) was passed by the U.S. Congress, there were no African Americans sitting on the city councils of Hampton Roads eight major cities.
But in 1968 thanks to passage of VRA, abolition of the poll tax and massive voting registration drives, these cities saw Blacks elected to council, in some cases, for the first time since Reconstruction.
Today Chesapeake, Franklin, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Virginia Beach have 63 members on council, including some serving as mayors elected at-large.
The first African American elected to the Virginia Beach City Council was John Perry in 1986. He served until 1990.
The first African American woman elected to Virginia Beach council was Louisa Strayhorn in 1994. He lost her bid for another term four years later.
New Council members Chris Taylor and Jennifer Rouse
NJG Publisher Brenda H. Andrews congratulates Dr. Amelia Ross-Hammond.
Photos by Ernest Lowery