By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
A piece of public art in honor of an African-American will be unveiled in Norfolk at 10:00 a.m. on November 19, during a ceremony that is open to the public.
An 11-foot bronze statue of Richard A. Tucker, the cleric, educator, and civic leader was recently erected in front of the 12,000-square-foot library which bears his name at 2350 Berkley Avenue Extension. Tucker was Norfolk’s first African-American principal and an advocate for Black education.
On November 2, Vinnie Bagwell, a reporter turned sculpturer who created the statue, watched as workers drilled the holes in the platform and eventually set it in place.
Bagwell of Yonkers, NY, is a Morgan State University alumna and well-known sculpturer. She said she won the competition to do the project via Norfolk Arts Project.
Bagwell has her signature and vision on a list of public art honoring the legacy of African-Americans.
Her first, in 1996 was of singer Ella Fitzgerald in Yonkers, NY; abolitionists Frederick Douglass at Hofstra University in Long Island, NY; Soul Singer Marvin Gaye, in Detroit; and activist Walter “Doc” Hurley in Hartford, CT.
Bagwell said public art depicting figures of history is all over the country. Among the most noted and controversial have been projects showcasing Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, now deemed symbolic of White Supremacy and due to the efforts by Black Lives Matter (BLM), many have been removed.
She said public artworks are created by a community of artists which is composed of mostly white men.
But the effort to erect public art to honor and recognize African-American historic and living figures by Black artists like her is growing.
Bagwell said each piece of public art, should reflect not only the character but the historic image of the subject based on his work.
“For Mr. Tucker, I saw a clergyman … a preacher, a man who used the power of the church to help his people build his community,” said Bagwell. “Their sermons are acts of art, evoking a vision of God’s work and inspiring faith in our people.”
Tucker and his family had a long and storied history in
Norfolk’s history. His father Rev. Lewis Tucker, was the first Black Pastor of the Historic First Baptist Church, Bute Street
His son Richard A. Tucker was born in Berkley in 1850 and was educated locally. He then enrolled in the Howard University School of Theology. After graduation, he was dispatched to North Carolina for missionary work.
Tucker came back to Norfolk in 1876 and was hired as a schoolteacher for Norfolk Public Schools where he served for 47 years, becoming the city’s first Black principal.
“Public art is a way in which African-Americans can express our image, our voice, and tell our story,” Bagwell said. “Many of the stories of Black historic figures are not told. These public artworks will tell these stories for 100 years or more.”