The Slover Library in downtown Norfolk hosted a history program, Sunday, February 7, 2016, honoring individuals and groups that influenced African-American History in the Hampton Roads community.“Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African-American Memory,” is the 2016 Black History Month theme with Norfolk embracing the theme by declaring its theme as “Hallowed Grounds: Sites of Memory in Hampton Roads.” Stephani Vaughan, Bookmobile library assistant, hosted the affair. The Director of the Norfolk Public Library, Sonal Rastogi, Welcomed the guests. In her written remarks found in the program, Rastogi stated that “Virginia is the home of the oldest African-American cultural experience in the United States.” Her welcome remarks were followed by Caleb Bright singing “Memories.”
Parts of Judge Joseph A. Jordan’s life were highlighted by his nephew and niece who talked about their uncle as a strong, soft spoken, civil rights advocate who was known as a visionary. Joseph A. Jordan believed in education; worked for the betterment of services for specially challenged individuals; and successfully opposed Virginia’s poll tax. He established the Joe Jordan Foundation which promoted the contributions of and recognition of Blacks and memorials such as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Monument in downtown Norfolk. Jordan was the first African-American on Norfolk’s City Council and served in the capacity of Vice Mayor. He was appointed a judge in 1977. His award was accepted by his niece with other family members looking on.
The 220 African-American women and men who, in 1938, landscaped the Azalea Garden through the Works Progress Administration (WPA) program that operated during the “Great Depression.” These workers gave their all through the cold winter months and the heat of the summer. Joe Alston, Jr. talked about the pride he felt, in 2006, when he learned that his grandmother, Sally Alston, was one of the 200 who created such a beautiful garden and how she worked at the garden and came home and still had energy to cook dinner for her family. The last survivor of the WPA Azalea Garden landscape crew, Mrs. Mary Ferguson (96 years of age) and her children were present for this honor to the 200 WPA/AZALEA GARDEN LANDSCAPING CREW. Prior to accepting the award, one of the daughters had a few words to share about her mother.
Another honoree was, Dr. Lyman Beecher Brooks, former administrator and first President of Norfolk State College (now Norfolk State University. His widow, Evelyn Brooks, spoke glowingly of her husband’s passion for education and his love for Norfolk State. Dr. Brooks began his tenure in the educational arena at Middlesex High School teaching math and science. During the depression, Brooks became founder and principal of the Essex County High School in Tappahannock which became the first high school for Blacks in that county. The President of Virginia Union William John Clark, in 1938, invited Lyman B. Brooks to become the director of the Norfolk Unit of Virginia Union. In 1942, Norfolk Polytechnic College was chartered to succeed Virginia Union. A couple of years later, after being mandated by the Virginia General Assembly, Norfolk State became known as the Norfolk Division of Virginia State College and nicknamed Little State.” Dr. Brooks, in 1969, became president of the college. From 1938 until 1975 Lyman Beecher Brooks brought Norfolk State from 5 rented classrooms and a small dedicated faculty, including 7 very good friends, to a faculty and staff of 375 and a student body of more than 6,000 students. With one of her daughters present, Mrs. Graciously accepted the award in honor of her late husband.
Members of First Baptist Church/Bute Street located in downtown Norfolk were honored for their rich history and focus on education. Rev. Dr. Murray, pastor of First Baptist, and two members, Mrs. Finney and Mrs. Rogers chronicled the years of the church from the 1790s to 2016. Once the members left Court Street Baptist Church, in Portsmouth, they established their own church on Cumberland Street. During those very early days, Blacks had to have a white minister; therefore, the congregation started meeting in the Borough Church (St. Paul’s Episcopal Church) in 1805. Under the progressive leadership of Rev. Richard Bowling, Jr., these Black Baptist church members, from 1920 to 1929, were involved in serving the community through, according to historical records, a nursery school, kindergarten, an employment bureau and a King’s Daughters Milk Station in addition to other needed services such as the First Baptist Home for the Aged. The “Norfolk 17” during “Massive Resistance” to desegregation (when the white schools in Norfolk closed rather than allow “colored children/Negroes” to enter their hallowed halls) the minister and members of First Baptist Church opened their doors for these 17 young people to continue their education. Rev. Murray accepted the award for the ministers and members of the Historic First Baptist Church/Bute Street.
The last honoree was Michael Raphael – a noted composer, musician and artist. A wonderful video of his music, featuring Kevin Maynor, was shown. An extremely talented man who treated people with kindness and respect wrote scores of music which included jazz hymns and operas. Along his road to greatness, Raphael, as stated in the program, at the request of Kevin Maynor the founder of Trilogy: produced the opera “Nat Turner” which was a huge success. Michael Raphael also started “one of the few African-American opera companies still operating today. Kevin Maynor will be in Norfolk to sing at a tribute to Michael Raphael during a concert which will be held at the Attucks Theater this spring. Anne Bunch, Michael’s Godmother, was slightly emotional as she made comments and accepted the award in Michael Raphael’s honor. In addition to members of Bunch’s family some members of the Raphael family were present.
Following the closing remarks by Linda Goss, owner of Maya Publications, a reception was held in the lobby of the auditorium.
Dudley Colbert, Manager of Blyden Branch Library, is the 2015-2016 Multicultural Committee Chair.
For more information about the Black History Month Honors Program, go to www.norfolkpubliclibrary.org/AAHM for program updates.