A Brief History

The roots of Black History Month can be traced all the way back to 1915, 50 years after the 13th amendment was passed. Two gentleman scholars, Carter Woodson and Jesse Moreland, founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The Association was dedicated to researching and promoting the accomplishments and achievements of all people of African descent. In the second week of February 1926, the group sponsored the first ever Negro History Week. The date was selected specifically to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln and it served to prompt local communities to organize celebrations and promote the lectures and workshops defining and highlighting the African experience in America and around the world. Today, Portsmouth is proud to continue this long standing tradition. Here are 12 things you can do in Portsmouth to take part in Black History Month.


Special Events

What: Women on the Warfront: African-American Women on the Battlefields of History”
Where: Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center Art Annex
When: 12 pm – 1:30 pm

Taniki Richard of Just to Inspire will take visitors on a video and photographic journey through history as she explores the roles African and African-American women played in history’s greatest military conflicts, including her own experiences as an officer in the U.S. Marines Corps during the Iraqi War.


What: “Let My People Go: Moses Grandy’s Financial Fight for Freedom”
Where: Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center Art Annex
When: 12 pm – 1:30 pm

Eric Sheperd of Diversity Restoration Solutions will take visitors on a video and photographic journey from West Africa to the Dismal Swamp Canal to tell the story of how his ancestor, Moses Grandy, used industry and thrift to purchase his freedom from slavery in the early 1800s


What: “Exploring Mali: A Young Person’s Guide to Ancient Civilization”
Where: Cradock Branch Library
When: 1 pm

Author Linda Goss helps young readers (Ages 8-13) discover the history and culture of Ancient Mali as she leads a discussion of her book that includes the story of Sundjata, the boy who became king of Mali.


What: Black History Expo
Where: Churchland Branch Library
When: 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm

Join together with your community in honoring African-American history. Hear from guest speaker Inez Randolph discussing the history of Grove Baptist Church, listen to local musical talent, and see breathtaking display of local artisans’ handiwork at this celebratory event recognizing African-American history in Portsmouth.


What: Neighborhood Black History Tour & Costume Parade
Where: High and Green Streets
When: 10:30 am

Wear your favorite costume representing an African-American hero, past, present, local, city, state, national or international. Walk or ride a shuttle bus to see significant African American sites in Portsmouth, concluding at the Portsmouth Neighborhood Facility Recreation Center at 900 Elm Ave. To register contact Joyce White Tasby at 202-812-2804.  Registration fees are $10.00 for an individual and $50.00 for 10 or more.  The line-up begins at 10:30 am at High and Green Streets.


What: Portsmouth Community Concerts, Inc.
Where: I.C. Norcom High School Auditorium
When:  7:30 pm

American operatic tenor Orson Van Gay II will bring audiences to their feet with his charisma and command of the stage.  A native of Southern California, Orson is no stranger to the Hampton Roads community, as he honed his vocal talents as a Vocal Performance major at Old Dominion University.  For ticket and other information visit the PCCI website: or call (757)686-5447.


SATURDAY • FEBRUARY 22 and February 29
What: African-American History Walk through Olde Towne Portsmouth 
Where: Departs from the Portsmouth Visitor Information Center – 6 Crawford Parkway at the North Landing
When:  11 am – 12:15 pm 

Did you know the first African American spy, double agent James Armistead Lafayette once operated in Portsmouth? Or that William “Billy” Flora, a free black and hero of the Battle of Great Bridge, was a highly respected citizen and business owner here? Or that Portsmouth was an important stop on the Underground Railroad?  Experience African American History Month as you take a stroll through the streets of Portsmouth with James Lafayette and Billy Flora.  Tickets $10 per person for sale in advance at the Portsmouth Visitor Center.  Learn more at PortsmouthLivingHistory.com


What: “Java & Djembes”
Where: Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center
When:  11 am – 12:30 pm 

Enjoy coffee from different regions of Africa while learning traditional West African percussion rhythms from master musician Kamiruri Kelly, of the DAY Program.  Hailed as the “Maestro”, Mr. Kelly is one of the few American percussionists to be declared a member of acclaimed musician Mammady Keita’s family of percussionists in Guinea, West Africa.  Price:  $10 per person.  Intended Audience:  Ages 17 & Up.  Requires at least 10 participants.

CLICK HERE to register for t he workshop.

Workshop participants are eligible to perform in a 2:00 p.m. public performance at the Churchland Branch Library as workshop participants showcase what they learned.


What: “Jammin’ at the Juke Joint”
Where: Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center Art Center
When:  6:30 pm – 9 pm

Local band leader Robert Giles of God’s Finest Gospel, Blues and Jazz Band will take listeners on a narrative musical journey through time to follow the gospel origins of blues, jazz, rock’n’roll, soul, R&B and funk music all the way to today’s hip-hop.


See the Grove Baptist Church Photographic Display
What: Portsmouth Institutions: Grove Baptist Church at 180
Where: Main Branch of the Portsmouth Public Library, 601 Court Street
When: January 17 – February 28

Grove Baptist Church has contributed to Portsmouth’s spiritual, social, and community life since its establishment in 1840. Learn more about this historic congregation, founded as an African-American offshoot of a 19th century white church. Vintage images and articles will highlight the ways in which this long-standing church has truly become a Portsmouth Institution.


See the African-Americans in the Military Exhibit
What: Portraits of Service: Portsmouth African Americans in the Military, 1946 – 1967
Where: Photographs from the collection of the Portsmouth Public Library. Portsmouth City Hall Lobby, 801 Crawford Street
When: January 17 – February 29

After World War II, the Colored Notes column of the Portsmouth Star newspaper described happenings in the African American community.  The column included frequent photographs of local residents in military service.  View this collection of military portraits and original captions in this temporary exhibit for Black History Month Now 2020


See “Follow the Drinking Gourd” at the Beazley Planetarium
What: “Follow the Drinking Gourd”
Where: The Beazley Planetarium at the Children’s Museum of Virginia
(Included in museum admission)
When:  Show Times for the month of February:
Tuesday – Friday:  1 pm & 3 pm, Saturday: 11 am & 2 pm, Sunday: 12 pm

Analyze the celestial clues hidden within the Follow the Drinking Gourd folk song first published in 1928. This song reportedly used by the Underground Railroad offered hope to a people in an escape to freedom. Running time: 30 minutes


Visit the Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum
What: “A Steady Cycle of Lively Events: The African-American Social Scene in Post War Portsmouth”
Where: 904 Elm Street
When: Friday and Saturday from noon until 5

Learn about some of the African American community’s social and recreational activities in post-World War II Portsmouth. See vintage images of parades, talent shows, club meetings and more, from this era when segregation led to Portsmouth’s black residents establishing their own social scene with A Steady Cycle of Lively Events.


Bonus Idea

History T Shirt artwork version 2Stop by the Visitor Information Center located at 6 Crawford Parkway (North Ferry Landing) and purchase an American History series T-shirt featuring the contributions of three African-American Portsmouth heroes.  $24.99