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
In recognition of the historical importance of the structure,
the Portsmouth Community Library is on the National Register of
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
video of Mae Breckenridge-Haywood at the Portsmouth Community
Library building. Thank you.
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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.
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
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