Portsmouth's Black Business District

October 14, 2016
[Portsmouth, VA] “We were on the main drag.”
– Bertha Edwards, Librarian at the Community Library.

Mrs. Edwards, who was the librarian at Portsmouth’s Community Library during the 18 years of its existence (1945-1963), was describing the library’s original location, at South and Effingham Streets, in the heart of Portsmouth’s African American business district. In mid-20th century Portsmouth, as in so many other cities across the US, services and businesses were segregated. African Americans looking for everyday resources such as barbers or doctors might have to travel long distances to find a place that would serve them, simply because they were black. In cities like Portsmouth, enterprising businesspeople opened shops and businesses where black people were welcome. These businesses, often clustered together, became centers of social and community life.

A new exhibit at the Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum, opening on October 14, will examine a few of these businesses and their role in the community. At Linwood Copeland Bailey’s barber shop, for example, Mr. Bailey’s fellow I.C. Norcom High School alumni from the football team frequently gathered to discuss politics. The Mutual Pharmacy and Drug Company offered medical services and pharmacy supplies at a time when African American Portsmouth residents might otherwise have to travel to Norfolk to see a doctor. This exhibit, along with the existing exhibit about the history of the Community Library itself, will remain on display at the museum through 2017.

Copyright 2016 City of Portsmouth, VA
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904 Elm Avenue, Portsmouth, VA 23704 · 757-393-8983, ext. 20
Mailing Address: 521 Middle Street, Portsmouth, VA 23704
The Portsmouth Community Library served black patrons from 1945 until 1963, when the main library was integrated. The small, one-story brick building was originally located on South Street near Effingham Street. The land at this new location was purchased with donations made by Portsmouth citizens, black and white.