by Renon Weatherford
Norfolk, Va., is home to many historical monuments and memories made in honor of and by African Americans.
One accomplishment is Brown Savings & Banking, which was organized by African-American entrepreneur E.C. Brown. Brown started a real estate business around 1901 in Newport News, Va., and by 1908, he was renting more than 300 houses and had more than 800 tenants.
On June 27, 1908, he opened the Crown Savings Bank, a private bank that catered to African-Americans in Newport News.
In 1909 Brown launched another private bank for African-Americans, the Browns Savings & Banking in Norfolk, Va. The success of both banks made Brown nationally known throughout African-American business circles.
In 1922, the bank merged with Tidewater Bank & Trust Co. and moved into a new bank office building at 700-702 Church Street, reopening under the name Metropolitan Bank & Trust. The bank was in business until 1933.
During the era of segregation and Jim Crow laws, a group of individuals were determined to establish a library to serve the African-American community, as the city of Norfolk did not provide library services of any kind to African-Americans.
The Blyden Branch of the Norfolk Public Library opened in 1921 in a room in the Booker T. Washington High School building on Princess Anne Road; it was the first library for black citizens to be supported by a municipality in the state of Virginia. It was located at 1346 Church Street from 1938 until 1957. It is now located at 879 East Princess Anne Road.
The United Order of Tents, one of the oldest lodges for African-American women in the country, was founded in Norfolk.
It was secretly organized by two slave women, Annetta M. Lane, Harriet R. Taylor and two abolitionists, Joliffe Union and Joshua R. Giddings as a part of the Underground Railroad. The objectives of the Tents were to clean, feed and to provide nursing care to African-American women whenever necessary.
Qualifications for membership included all women must believe in God, possess good moral character and be between the ages of 16 and 50 years of age, provided they were free from bodily ailments which would be burdensome to the organization.
The organization was formally organized and publicly recognized after the end of the Civil War. The United Order of Tents currently maintains its headquarters on Church Street in Norfolk, Virginia.
Norfolk’s first hospital for African-Americans opened in 1856 in the home of the late Miss Ann Plume Behan Herron. Miss Herron, who died of yellow fever in 1855, left her entire estate to the Order of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul for the purpose of founding a hospital.
The original building burned in 1899 and was rebuilt two years later on the same site, serving as a hospital until the present De Paul Hospital opened on Kingsley Lane in 1944. The basement and annexes of the old hospital housed classes for the Norfolk Division of the Virginia State College (now Norfolk State University) until 1958.
The Attucks Theatre, located in Norfolk, Va, was financed, designed and constructed by African-American entrepreneurs in 1919. The Attucks Theater was named to honor African-American Crispus Attucks, who was the first African-American to lose his life at the beginning of the American Revolution. The theater was designed by local architect Harvey Johnson.
When it was first opened, Attucks Theatre was known as the “Apollo Theatre of the South.” It hosted performers ranging from Cab Calloway to Redd Foxx and in 1977 the United States Congress elevated The Attucks to National Historic Landmark status.
After extensive renovations, the theatre re-opened in October 2004 and today, the Norfolk Theater is formally known as The Crispus Attucks Cultural Center and is located at the intersection of Church Street and Virginia Beach Boulevard.
The West Point Monument, located on 238 E. Princess Anne rd and is one of only a few African-American Civil War Memorials located in the South. This monument was built as a tribute to African-American veterans of the Civil War and Spanish American War.
James E. Fuller (1846-1909) of Norfolk, a former slave and a Civil War Veteran quartermaster in the First United States Colored Cavalry, and later elected as the first black Norfolk City Councilman, was the motivating spirit behind the erection of Norfolk’s African-American Civil War Memorial.
Sgt. William Carney, the soldier depicted on the top of the West Point Monument, was born in Norfolk in 1840 and fought in the Civil War with the 54th Massachusetts Regiment. During the 1863 attack on Fort Wagner, S.C., he saved the U.S. flag from capture; refusing to give up even though he had been shot three times.
Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
Norfolk is full of rich history that is not taught in the public school system. It is up to the parents, educators and local media outlets to ensure they pass on the local history to the next generations so that they will have the knowledge and pride of Norfolk’s local pioneers.
Copyright Norfolk State University 2013