African-American History in Norfolk
From historic churches and theatres to gospel cruises and cultural events, there's no place like Norfolk to celebrate African-American heritage. In fact, African-Americans have played a key role in the development of this historic seaport since its establishment in the 1600s. Almost everywhere you turn, the richness of the African-American experience in Norfolk is alive and well just waiting for you to explore it through an exciting array of attractions, events, shopping, dining and exhibits.
Attractions and Sites
The Attucks Theatre
The lovingly restored Attucks Theatre– which in its heyday was the focal point of entertainment, business, and racial pride in Norfolk’s African American community, is once again a star on Norfolk’s cultural stage. The theatre was financed, designed and constructed by African American entrepreneurs in 1919. The theatre was designed by Harvey Johnson, an African American architect and was named in honor of Crispus Attucks, an African American who was the first patriot to lose his life in the Revolutionary War.
Norfolk Botanical Garden
On June 30, 1938, Representative Norman R. Hamilton announced a Works Progress Administration (WPA) grant of $76,278 for the Azalea Garden project. Since most of the male labor force was at work with other projects for the city, a group of more than 200 African American women and 20 men were assigned to the Azalea Garden project.
West Point Monument
Norfolk is also the home to the West Point Monument at West Point Cemetery within Elmwood Cemetery. The memorial is a tribute to African-American Union veterans of the Civil War and the Spanish-American War. The soldier depicted on the monument is Norfolk native Sgt. William H. Carney of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment. Carney was the first black soldier to receive Medal of Honor for his bravery. Nearly 100 African American veterans are laid to rest in the West Point Cemetery.
Martin Luther King Monument
Towering over the corner of Brambleton Avenue and Church Street, the 83-foot granite monument stands as a lasting tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other slain civil rights leaders. The memorial conceived by Joseph A. Jordan, Jr., former Norfolk Councilman and General District Court Judge, is inscribed with quotations of Dr. King and contains a fountain at its base.
Chrysler Museum of Art
Black History presents an opportunity to explore and reflect upon the cultures and communities of not just African Americans, but peoples of African descent around the world and those residing on the African continent. The Chrysler Museum has a number of artists from the African Diaspora in its permanent collection as well as in its changing exhibitions.
African-American Owned Businesses
The city of Norfolk would not be the creative, diverse and vibrant community that it is without the endless contributions made by our African American residents and business owners. Some of these Black-owned businesses have become staples, while others have just planted their roots. From scrumptious soul food to self-care sanctuaries, we celebrate these businesses within our city and encourage you to visit their establishments to continue to support and lift them up. Here are a few Black-owned businesses to get you started.
Waterways to Freedom honors Norfolk’s proud participation in the Underground Railroad Network. In the early half of the 19th Century, tens of thousands of African American slaves escaped from the South to freedom in the northern United States and Canada. Their daring escapes were made possible by a clandestine network of people, hideouts, and willing ship captains that history would eventually call The Underground Railroad. Some speculate that enslaved African Americans departed Norfolk, Virginia more than any other port city along the eastern seaboard. With 1,500 ships visiting Norfolk’s waterfront each year, Virginia was the perfect gateway for slaves seeking freedom in the north. To view the interactive brochure, click here.