Online Learning

Black History Book List

In honor of Black History month, Portsmouth Public Library created a book list. From famous men and women, STEM leaders, trail blazers and activists, this comprehensive list covers some of the best fiction and non-fictional stories.

PACC Early Aviators Charles Wesley Peters

Prior to World War II, opportunities in aviation and the dream of flight evolved separately for Blacks than it did for Whites.

Charles “Mule” Peete
And Portsmouth’s Charles Peete Little League

By all accounts, Franklin-born, Portsmouth-raised Charles Peete had everything it took to be a standout major-league ballplayer.

Granville T. Woods Activity: Can You Hear Me Now?

Granville T. Woods was born on April 23, 1856 and was sometimes referred to as “The Black Edison.” He dedicated his life’s work to developing a variety of inventions, many relating to the railroad industry. Woods’s most important invention was an apparatus that combined a telephone and a telegraph. 

Garrett Morgan Art Activity:
Traffic Lights

Garrett Morgan was born in Paris, Kentucky, on March 4, 1877, and was the seventh of 11 children. He invented the three position traffic signal. After witnessing an accident on a roadway, Morgan decided a device was needed to keep cars, buggies and pedestrians from colliding.

George Grant Art Activity:
Golf Ball Painting

The next time you reach into your pocket or the zippered lining of your golf bag for a wooden tee, think of Dr. George F. Grant, an African American dentist from Boston. He was born in Oswego, New York in 1847. Grant developed a love for golf but was unhappy with the mess that came with the tee shot.

Celebrate Black History’s Inventions

Black inventors are among history’s most revered geniuses, known for their relentless inquisition,
passionate research and their desire to push the envelope. Scientists, engineers, and inventors find the solutions to the world’s problems.

for a Dreamer

Part of tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., presented in collaboration with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and HARMONY Project.

Follow the Drinking Gourd

Explore the inspiring book that captures the spirit and struggle to find freedom through the Underground Railroad. This unique video pays tribute to an important part of African-American history.

Highlights from the Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum

Take a tour of the highlights, artifacts and history of the Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum.

First Baseman Buck Leonard

The “Classiest First Baseman in Organized Baseball” passed through Portsmouth twice on his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Bright Star Touring Theatre Presents:
Jackie Robinson

The Children’s Museum of Virginia is continuing with “Black History Now” programming by bringing Bright Star Touring Theatre, a national professional touring theatre company, to you!

Honor the Achievements of Black Artists

Black artists have provided insight, conversation starters, entertainment, and influence on our culture. Here we are highlighting a few familiar names.

Lt. Col. Howard Baugh and The Tuskegee Airmen

Tuskegee Airmen Lt. Col Howard L. Baugh was assigned to the 99th Fighter Squadron where he flew P-40 and P-51 aircraft. On January 27, 1944, he was part of a mission of 16 fighter aircraft over the Anzio beachhead when the group spotted 15 German FW190’s.

Tuskagee Airmen Pass “The Test”

The 99th Fighter Squadron Commander Major George “Spanky” Roberts reads a telegram of Congratulations” from General John Hawkins to eight Tuskegee Airmen pilots..

Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman, 1892 – 1926, was a legendary aviation pioneer of mixed African and Native-American ancestry. 

If Walls Could Talk

Hear about the history of the Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum through the recollections of some of the Community Library’s patrons.

Talking About Race

National Museum of African American History & Culture / Smithsonian
Talking about race, although hard, is necessary. We are here to provide tools and guidance to empower your journey and inspire conversation.

Portraits of Service

Portsmouth African Americans in the Military, 1946 – 1967
Select Photographs from the Lee Rodgers Collection of the Portsmouth Public Library

Remarkable Portsmouth

Learn about Bertha Edwards, the librarian at Portsmouth’s African American Library from 1945 – 1963 (when the library was integrated).

Our Eyes Were Opened 

Learn about the1954 Boycott Integration of Baseball Stadium Gates written by Diane L. Cripps, Curator of History, Portsmouth Museums.

Finding a Path to Freedom

Click on this interactive story to see if you can successfully conduct an escaping slave to freedom via the Underground Railroad in Portsmouth in 1850.

March is Womens History Month

We celebrate women’s history to honor the struggles and achievements of those that came before us, and to give examples to our future changemakers.  It is important to highlight where we came from to make a better future. 

Uniforms of the United States Army Infantryman From the Civil War to the Gulf

Take a visual journey through time to see how the average American Soldier was outfitted from the Civil War through the Gulf, with special glimpses at artifacts in our Collection not on public display.

Nano Days

The Children’s Museum of Virginia has partnered with Norfolk State University (NSU) staff and students to bring their expertise in Materials Science, Biology, Chemistry and more to make S.T.E.M. activities fun for our visitors.

Recycling and Adaptive Reuse of Existing Structures

Recycling and repurposing reduces construction costs and showcases the buildings aesthetics and cultural distinction. The rehabilitated structure updates the building for current use without destroying its historic integrity.

Dynamic Earth

On Thursday, April 22 people all over the world will take some time to show respect to their Mother Earth. One of our traditions at the Beazley Planetarium is to show the feature Dynamic Earth. This presentation is made in cooperation with our partner Spitz Incorporated.

Portsmouth’s German Village

In one of the more bizarre episodes of Hampton Roads history, interned German sailors constructed a “village” complete with a church, windmill, houses, shops, fences, and gardens on a stretch of riverfront property at the Navy Yard adjacent to their hulking ships.

If Walls Could Talk

Hear about the history of the Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum through the recollections of some of the Community Library’s patrons in this 13-minute video, produced by Portsmouth Schools Educational Television, in association with the African American Historical Society of Portsmouth.

Remarkable Portsmouth Documentary Series

Learn about Bertha Edwards, the librarian at Portsmouth’s African American Library from 1945 – 1963 (when the library was integrated).

“Our Eyes Were Opened:”
1954 Boycott Integrates Baseball Stadium Gates

Diane L. Cripps, Curator of History, Portsmouth Museums, Portsmouth, Virginia
February 17, 2020

When visitors come to the Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum (PCCLM), they are often struck by the fact that this little building had such a specific purpose. It’s always a very satisfying moment when I hear them say, “I never knew that even libraries were segregated.” I always hope that means that we have successfully planted a seed of knowledge in their minds about the post-WWII era in Portsmouth, and maybe even sparked their curiosity to learn more.

Once you begin to look for evidence of the era of segregation, it’s easy to come up with some pretty blatant examples. Like the early 20th century architectural drawings we have on display at PCCLM of new designs for ferry and railroad terminals in Norfolk and Portsmouth. The plans for those buildings have “Colored” and “White” waiting rooms clearly labeled right on the drawings.

Segregation in transportation, like buses and railroads, are some of the most widely-known examples, along with segregated bathrooms. And there are plenty of people here in Portsmouth who remember separate entrances for blacks and whites at local businesses in the postwar era.

The practice turned up in the leisure activity of attending sporting events as well.

In Norfolk and Portsmouth, stadiums that were home to minor league teams had separate entrances and separate seating areas for black and white fans. This practice continued for years after Jackie Robinson broke through the “color line” by being named to the Brooklyn Dodgers team roster in the major leagues in 1947.

The Norfolk Tars, a (white) farm team for the New York Yankees, played at Myers Field in Norfolk in the 1950s. Around 1953, ballfields that hosted minor league games in both Portsmouth (Frank D. Lawrence Stadium) and Hampton (War Memorial Stadium) desegregated their entrance gates. Myers Field held out. Black fans in Norfolk staged a boycott, taking their baseball dollars with them to the integrated fields.

“Our eyes were opened by the sincere protests of the fans…” Tars General Manager Roy Dissinger was quoted as saying, after the decision was made to open the gates to all fans. “We want every baseball fan in Norfolk to support the team, which is now owned and operated by local people, and that includes colored fans.” The Tars had recently been purchased from the Yankees by a group of local owners, who made the decision to add black players to the team’s lineup. In addition to the noble purpose of eliminating segregated gates and stands, I’m sure the general manager gave more than a passing thought to the admission revenue the team would lose from its absent fans.

This April 10, 1954 article is from the Norfolk Journal and Guide newspaper, which has chronicled happenings in the African American community for more than a century.

Nineteen fifty-four was also the year of the landmark Supreme Court case Brown Vs. Board of Education, which ruled that state laws establishing racial segregation in public schools were unconstitutional. In Virginia, the backlash to that ruling included U.S. Senator Byrd’s “Massive Resistance” strategy in which many white schools were closed for lengthy periods of time in the late 1950s as a way to resist mandated integration.

Compared to the widespread and lengthy unrest caused by the Brown decision, it would seem that stadium integration was a little more straightforward. But this process was taking place around the country, as every team, stadium, and sports-loving community had to face the reality that their past biases, habits, and laws were subject to painful reexamination under the spotlight of the nascent Civil Rights Movement.

And this one local incident of integration as it applied to America’s Pastime is a reminder that racism reared its ugly head not just in the acts of selecting a seat on a bus or attending a separate school. It also encompassed the simple acts of checking out a library book or taking in a baseball game. The rest of the 1950s and ‘60s would see boycotts, protests, sit-ins, lawsuits, and even violence, in pursuit of liberty and justice for all, whether at school, at a ball game, at the library or on a train. An eye-opening period of American history, indeed.

Note: The newspaper article above turned up in our research for an exhibit at the Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum about mid-20th century African American Baseball in Portsmouth, coming in 2021. If you have any ideas or leads or personal knowledge of black baseball in post-WWII Portsmouth, please contact me and let me know. Thanks!

Diane L. Cripps
Curator of History, Portsmouth Museums
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum, Lightship Portsmouth Museum, Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum
2 High Street | Portsmouth, VA 23704 | 757-393-8591