23 January 2024

Black History in Norfolk

Norfolk’s rich African American history has shaped our city into the diverse community we know and love. We’re proud of our unique culture, from the contributions African Americans have made to our city’s past to the integral role of Norfolk’s Black communities today. 


Attucks Theatre 

Named in honor of African American Crispus Attucks—the first American patriot to lose his life in the 1770 Boston Massacre—the Attucks is the country’s oldest remaining legitimate theater designed, financed, constructed and operated entirely by African American entrepreneurs. Originally known as the “Apollo of the South,” the venue has hosted legendary performers including Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington and Nat King Cole. The music continues today through the theater’s Church Street Jazz Series and Attucks Jazz Club.

Norfolk State University

Image courtesy of Elizabeth River Trail (ERT)

A Historically Black College/University founded in 1935, Norfolk State is committed to transforming students’ lives through exemplary teaching, research and service, offering a supportive academic and culturally diverse environment for all. 

Norfolk Botanical Garden

In 1938, 220 African Americans were paid just 25 cents an hour to create the Norfolk Botanical Garden (NBG). Within a year, the Garden was a lush destination, but due to racial segregation, the workers didn’t feel welcome to enjoy the very garden they had created. NBG honors those individuals with a memorial garden and bronze sculpture titled “Breaking Ground,” inspired by photos of actual workers from the era.

Waterways to Freedom

Stop by the VisitNorfolk Visitor Center to pick up a tour brochure of Waterways to Freedom. With its complex and interwoven waterways, Virginia provided a starting point for thousands of individuals to escape slavery. Fugitive slaves would depart on wharves, steamships and schooners and be assisted by safe houses on their journey to freedom. Norfolk’s bustling port played a crucial role in the escape of many slaves, as did the city’s proximity to the Great Dismal Swamp, which was a popular hiding spot for escaped slaves. Take a deeper dive by joining a Norfolk Tour Company excursion focused on African American history in Norfolk. A guide will share fascinating landmarks and pieces of significant history. 

West Point Cemetery and Monument

Around 1,200 local African American soldiers served in the Civil War, with many cited for bravery and awarded medals. As these men passed away, the African American community searched for a burial solution to recognize the soldiers’ sacrifice. West Point Cemetery was dedicated as a special place of burial for nearly 100 Black Union veterans. A West Point monument was erected in honor of African American soldiers and sailors of all wars.

Want to support Norfolk’s Black-Owned Businesses? Here’s a list to get you started.

2024 Events

Black history month with american girl dolls

Feb. 1, 2024 | Van Wyck Library

During the month of February, American girl dolls Addy Walker and Melody Ellison will be taking over the KidZone to teach about Black history through their stories, play and interactive activities. Event runs all day.

HRT Transit Equity Day

Feb. 5, 2024

Monday Feb. 5, is a National Day of Action, celebrating the courageous acts of civil rights icon, Rosa Parks and highlighting the importance of equitable public transit. In honor of Transit Equity Day, Hampton Roads Transit will provide free rides, available on all bus, light rail, ferry and paratransit services. Citizens are encouraged to come out and to ride transit to show their support.

The Essence of Heart & Soul Festival

Feb. 10, 2024 | Slover Library

Celebrate Black History Month at the library’s downtown Slover branch. This year’s theme is black arts in the Hampton Roads area. Enjoy stories, activities, peruse the art gallery or attend a workshop/panel. Saturday, Feb. 10 from noon to 4 p.m. at 235 E. Plume St.

Black cinema night at slover

Instagram: @apple0622

Feb. 7-28, 2024 | Slover Library

Celebrate Black History Month with the Black Cinema Night Series. Slover Library will show black films based on the theme of the week. Movies will screen from 5 to 7 p.m.

  • Family Night: Feb. 7- “The Wiz” (1978- rated G)
  • Black Love Night: Feb. 14- “Southside With You” (2016- rated PG-13)
  • Kids Night: Feb. 21- “The Black Panther” (2018- rated PG-13)
  • Docudrama Night: Feb. 28- “Respect” (2021- rated PG-13)

Hurrah Players Path to freedom performances

Feb. 16-18, 2024 | Hugh R. Copeland Center

The Hurrah Players and Clear Vision Edutainment are teaming up to reboot the stage-play “Path to Freedom.” An original stage play written by Corey Staten, “Path…” traces the evolution of African-American culture to medieval West Africa, through slavery in America, into the Post Reconstruction Era, all the way to the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Travel through time with historical figures such as Mansa Musa of 14th Century Mali, 18th Century slave rebel Jimmy Kato, anti-lynching journalist Ida B. Wells, World War II hero Doris Miller, and television producer/creator of Soul Train, Don Cornelius, as history comes to life through music, dance and colorful stories from African-American culture.

While not inappropriate, there may be content that younger children may not grasp. Ages 3 and up.

Black history month trivia

Feb. 22, 2024 | Jordan-Newby Anchor Branch at Broad Creek

Honor Black History Month and celebrate African American achievements throughout history by putting your knowledge to the test in an evening of trivia from 5-6 p.m. ( Adults)

Registration required.

The dawn is ours

Through March 16, 2024 | The Barry Art Museum

Leginah Ndabambi is a Zimbabwean artist who has supported herself and her extended family through embroidery work for over thirty years. She is a leading artist in the Heartworks Stitching Women’s Collective, based in Cape Town, South Africa. With the devastating impact of the COVID pandemic throughout the world, Leginah wished to create narrative tapestries of hope, connection, and women’s collective strength. From her phone, she followed Amanda Gorman’s poetry performance at the 2021 presidential inauguration in the United States. The words and magnanimous presence of this young American artist inspired Leginah to create a series of embroidered tapestries that captured the words and images evoked by this historic moment. As a grandmother from Zimbabwe, Leginah wanted to share the story of Amanda Gorman, as a model for young women throughout Africa.

Jennifer Fish, Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, has loaned nine pieces from her collection of these original tapestries, acquired in South Africa in 2022. The exhibition will also feature a short film on the artist, at work in her home, as she discusses the impact of Amanda Gorman on her art and hope for collective upliftment through words and visual stories.

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