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2014 BCALA “Library of the Year” Award!

Restoration of the Portsmouth
(Colored) Community Library

The Portsmouth (Colored) 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. The land at this site was purchased with donations made by Portsmouth citizens, black and white, and the building was constructed at city expense.

Some of the 10,000 books available for black readers were James Weldon Johnson's Along This Way, Henrietta Buckmaster's Let My People Go, Langston Hughes' The Big Sea, and Carter G. Woodson's Mis-Education of the Negro.

In recognition of the historical importance of the structure, the Portsmouth Community Library is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Over the years the Community Library building fell into disrepair, and in 2003 the African American Historical Society of Portsmouth decided to prioritize saving the building. With the help of the City of Portsmouth; Greg Rutledge, AIA, of Hanbury, Evans, Wright, and Vlattas and Company; the Norfolk Foundation; the Beazley Foundation; Wheelabrator Technologies; and many additional individuals, businesses, churches, and organizations, the building has been saved and renovations are nearly complete.

The restored building will house the Portsmouth African American Museum. Although housed in Portsmouth, this museum will be an important resource, artifact, and memorial to African Americans throughout Hampton Roads. We already have artifacts, photographs, oral histories, and more to exhibit, including two tables, a small desk, one chair, and a small handful of books that were used in the Portsmouth Community Library. The architect was able to draw and locate the reception desk from the floor imprint, and a master wood finisher is reconstructing that desk. A most interesting addition to the museum's collection came from CSX, a railroad company with a warehouse in Portsmouth. The company donated not only $5,000 for restoration purposes but also a sink from their Portsmouth warehouse that still has the word "colored" embossed on it.

View the video of Mae Breckenridge-Haywood at the Portsmouth Community Library building. Thank you.


Press Release pdf | doc

DONATIONS pdf

High Five for HistoryIn 1944, Friends of the Colored Library" donated $1.00 toward building the Colored library. Now we are asking for a donation of $5.00 or more to continue our "High Five for History" legacy campaign to continue support of the Portsmouth African American Museum and Cultural Center.

The Portsmouth (Colored) Community Library's Gala Grand Opening was on December 22, 2013 and it's first exhibit was on December 23, 2013.


The Community Library, c. 1960

The Portsmouth Community Library stands empty and in need of restoration. The library is currently located on the parking lot of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Portsmouth.


The Community Library, 2006

The weathered building serves a reminder of the days when African Americans could not use the “whites only” public library in the city. The Portsmouth Community Library operated between 1945 and 1962.