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Hampton Roads Community News

Portsmouth To Honor Librarian With Literary Landmark

By Rosaland Tyler

Associate Editor

New Journal and Guide


The upcoming Literary Landmark Dedication ceremony is just one of many honors bestowed upon Bertha Mae Winborne Edwards.

Edwards, who died at age 89 in 2009, is the author of several books that are located in the local history room in the Portsmouth Public Library. On Dec. 17 at 3 p.m. at the Portsmouth Community Colored Library Museum, 904 Elm St., Edwards will receive an award that has been bestowed on Gwendolyn Brooks, Edgar Allen Poe, and W.E.B. DuBois. The Department of Museums and The Friends of the Portsmouth Library are sponsoring the event.

“About two dozen or so nominated her to have a literary landmark to honor her and her work,” said Linda Holmes, supervisor of the Portsmouth Community Colored Library Museum. “It is a distinguished award that several distinguished writers and librarians have received. The African-American Historical Society is a co-sponsor.”

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“People should come because I think that more needs to be done to celebrate pioneers who have made such an important contribution to African-American history,” Holmes said.

“Black librarians were scare when Edwards headed the only library that served people of color. Later, she would become the first librarian of color at the formerly all-white library. But because she made the library more than a library and held clothing drives, food drives, and helped people fill out voting registration forms.

“And she worked at least six days a week putting in more than 40 hours a week,” Holmes said. “During segregation many schools did not have a library. So she helped schools set up their library. She loved research. She was an important resource. The Boy Scouts met at the library.”

As a result, Holmes received many honors during her lifetime including the Pump Handle award from the Portsmouth NAACP in 1992, the first award for Excellence in Librarianship from the Tidewater Area Minority Network in 1997, the Finer Womanhood Week award from Zeta Phi Beta Sorority in 1999, and citations from Celestial, Zion, and Mount Calvary Baptist churches.

Her biographical information is listed in the following references: “The Black Librarian in the Southeast,” “Who’s Who in Library Service 1948,” “Dictionary of International Biography 1966,” “Virginia Lives – The Old Dominion Who’s Who 1964,” “Who’s Who of American Women,” 2nd and 4th editions, and “100 Influential Americans in Portsmouth, VA 1997.”

Born in 1920 in Portsmouth to Carey J. and Annie S. Winborne, she graduated with honors in 1937 from I.C. Norcom High School and went on to Hampton Institute.

Holmes said, “It is fitting that someone who dedicated her life to the community and the library has joined the company of nationally recognized writers for her important contributions.”

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