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Celebrating Black History Month

Celebrating Black History Month

Newport News Public Schools is celebrating Black History Month by highlighting the namesakes of several of our schools.

George Washington Carver (1864-1943)

G.W. Carver

George Washington Carver was an inventor and agricultural scientist whose idea of crop rotation was groundbreaking in ensuring farmers could profit from crops other than cotton. Mr. Carver earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in 1894 at Iowa State Agricultural School (now Iowa State University). Two years later, he earned his Master of Agriculture degree and accepted an offer to teach at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) from Booker T. Washington, where he worked for the remainder of his life.

Through his research on soil chemistry, Mr. Carver learned that repeatedly growing cotton in the same field depleted soil nutrients, which in turn lowered cotton yields. He also knew from his research that plants like sweet potatoes, soybeans and peanuts were nitrogen-fixing and would restore the soil, creating higher yields when the land was reverted back to growing cotton. Mr. Carver is credited with creating numerous products from sweet potatoes, but his biggest contribution was developing more than 300 commercial, food and industrial products from peanuts.

The Warwick County School Board named George W. Carver School in his honor. The school was built in 1949 and housed both elementary and high school classes for African American students. Due to high enrollment at the consolidated school, the Warwick County School Board later decided to build an elementary school beside Carver High School, named Carver Elementary School. In 1971, Carver High became an intermediate school during the city of Newport News' desegregation plan. In 1980, the intermediate school was renamed in honor of former principal Homer L. Hines and became a middle school. The school was closed in the spring of 1990 an underwent a $7.3 million renovation and another school with the Hines namesake was built in a nearby section of the city. The school later reopened in 1995 as Flora D. Crittenden Middle School.

Flora Davis Crittenden (1924-2021 )

Flora D. Crittenden

Flora Crittenden was a 1941 graduate of Huntington High School, received her undergraduate degree from Virginia State University, and earned her Master of Science degree from Indiana University. Mrs. Crittenden worked in NNPS for 32 years as a teacher, department head, guidance counselor and guidance director, all at Carver High School and Carver Intermediate School. Flora Crittenden was active in the community joining the Newport News branch of the NAACP and later serving as President. She was also active in Trinity Baptist Church, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and served as president of the Christopher Newport University Board. Mrs. Crittenden entered the political arena in 1986 when she was elected to the Newport News City Council. In 1993, Mrs. Crittenden won a special election to fill a vacant seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, where she served for 11 years.

The building where Crittenden Middle School stands originally started as George Washington Carver High School. After additional sections were added to the school, it became known as Carver Intermediate in 1971. In 1980 it was renamed in honor of former Carver principal Homer L. Hines. In 1990, the school was closed for a renovation and the Hines name was given to another school in a nearby section of Newport News. In 1994, the School Board renamed the renovated school on Jefferson Avenue Flora D. Crittenden Middle School and in 1995 it was designated as the site of the middle school STEM magnet program.

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

Paul L. Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar became one of the first influential black poets in American literature, and was one of the first African American writers to receive international acclaim due to his use of dialect in his poetry. Poetry was only a portion of his works, which include novels, essays, short stories and plays. Paul Laurence Dunbar began writing when he was a child and published his first poems at the age of 16 in Dayton, Ohio. Mr. Dunbar self-published his first book of poetry, Oak and Ivy in 1893, and moved from local notoriety to national fame with his third collection, Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896). Mr. Dunbar's extensive body of work provides significant insight into African American life at the turn of the twentieth century.

Dunbar-Erwin Elementary School is not the first school building to honor Mr. Dunbar. When Newport News began to offer high school education to Black students in 1919, it was in a room at John Marshall Elementary School and was called Dunbar High School, which had 52 students enrolled in its first year according to Hattie Thomas Lucas in "Huntington High School: Symbol of Community Hope and Unity." As the program began to grow, Dunbar High School moved to Joseph Parker School, a former Warwick County school on 18th Street in 1920, and was renamed Huntington High School to honor Newport News Shipyard founder Collis P. Huntington. Dunbar school was named in his honor in the early 1920s. In 1961 it was rebuilt and named Dunbar-Erwin Elementary School. the school currently houses Achievable Dream Academy.

Temple Cutler "T.C." Erwin (1878-1951)

T.C. Erwin

T.C. Erwin came to Newport News in 1923 to serve as the principal of John Marshall School after receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from Fisk University and a Master of Arts degree from Hampton Institute (now Hampton University). Before arriving in Newport News, Mr. Erwin was a Field Agent of the Negro Organization Society, whose purpose was "to build better schools, lengthen terms, (and) create and promote a general interest in education and cooperation between school and community." Mr. Erwin believed in that purpose, which was evident by his activity in the community: serving as a member on the Board of Directors for the Hampton Roads Boys' Club and leading United Negro College Fund campaigns.

Over his 26 years of service to Newport News schools, Mr. Erwin served as principal of John Marshall School, Booker T. Washington School and Paul L. Dunbar School. Mr. Erwin retired in 1949, and in 1961, the Newport News School Board built a 14-classroom school on Ivy Avenue named in his honor. T.C. Erwin School was connected to Dunbar Elementary School via the auditorium. Today that school is Dunbar-Erwin Elementary School, which houses An Achievable Dream Academy.

Dunbar-Erwin Elementary School is not the first school building to honor Mr. Dunbar. When Newport News began to offer high school education to Black students in 1919, it was in a room at John Marshall Elementary School and was called Dunbar High School, which had 52 students enrolled in its first year according to Hattie Thomas Lucas in "Huntington High School: Symbol of Community Hope and Unity." As the program began to grow, Dunbar High School moved to Joseph Parker School, a former Warwick County school on 18th Street in 1920, and was renamed Huntington High School to honor Newport News Shipyard founder Collis P. Huntington. Dunbar school was named in his honor in the early 1920s. In 1961 it was rebuilt and named Dunbar-Erwin Elementary School. the school currently houses Achievable Dream Academy.

Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996)

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald, born on April 25, 1917 in Newport News, Virginia, was an iconic American jazz vocalist and entertainer. She was renowned for her extraordinary vocal talent and extensive career. Rising to prominence in the swing era, Fitzgerald's enchanting voice, impeccable phrasing, and ability to effortlessly traverse musical genres made her a household name. Often referred to as the "First Lady of Song" and the "Queen of Jazz," her career spanned over six decades, during which she recorded numerous hit albums and collaborated with jazz luminaries like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. Ms. Fitzgerald's renditions of jazz standards and the Great American Songbook remain timeless, and her impact on the genre endures.

Beyond her musical achievements, Ella Fitzgerald played a pivotal role in breaking racial barriers in the entertainment industry. As the first African-American woman to win a Grammy Award, she paved the way for future generations of artists and became a symbol of resilience and talent. Her accolades include 13 Grammy Awards, the National Medal of Arts, the NAACP's inaugural President's Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Ms. Fitzgerald's influence extends far beyond her lifetime, as her contributions to jazz and her impact on cultural diversity continue to resonate, ensuring her legacy as one of the most revered and influential vocalists in the history of American music. She passed away at the age of 79 on June 15, 1996 in Beverly Hills, California.

In 2021, NNPS changed four school names that did not reflect the School Board's values of inclusion and diversity. The change included the former Dozier Middle School, now named Ella Fitzgerald Middle School.

Homer L. Hines (1912-1984)

H. L. Hines

Mr. Homer Hines was a Newport News native, graduating as Class President from Huntington High School in 1930 before earning a Bachelor of Science degree in math and science from Hampton Institute. After earning his master's degree in secondary education from New York University, Mr. Hines taught in New Kent County, VA and Gates County, NC before coming back to teach math and science at Huntington High School in 1936.

In 1949, Mr. Hines was appointed as the first principal of Carver High School. He served as principal for 22 years. In 1971, Mr. Hines left Carver High School to work as the director of federal programs for Newport News Public Schools, a position he held until his retirement in 1977. Mr. Hines was active in the community serving as chairman on the board of directors for the Newport News Teacher's League Credit Union and as project director for the Moton Community House.

The School Board voted and renamed Carver Intermediate to Hines Middle School in December 1979. In 1990, the school was closed for renovations and a new Hines Middle School opened on McLawhorne Drive. The first day of classes at the new Hines Middle School was April 24, 1990.

Katherine Goble Johnson (1918-2020)

Katherine G. Johnson

Katherine G. Johnson was a pioneering American mathematician known for her pivotal role in NASA's early space missions. Born on August 26, 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Johnson displayed exceptional mathematical talent from a young age. She excelled in her education, graduating high school at 14 and receiving degrees in French and mathematics from West Virginia State University (formerly West Virginia State College) in 1937. The 2016 film, Hidden Figures, chronicled the story of Mrs. Johnson and her colleagues, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, female African-American mathematicians who worked at NASA during the Space Race.

In 1953, Johnson joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which later became NASA, where her calculations played a crucial role in the success of the first American orbital spaceflights. Johnson's extraordinary mathematical skills were integral to the trajectory analysis for the first American in space, Alan Shepard, and the orbital calculations for John Glenn's historic flight around the Earth. Despite facing racial and gender discrimination, Katherine G. Johnson's perseverance and brilliance made her a trailblazer for women and African Americans in the fields of science and mathematics. Her contributions were recognized with numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, and her legacy continues to inspire generations of scientists and mathematicians. Katherine G. Johnson passed away at age 101 in Newport News on February 24, 2020, leaving an enduring impact on space exploration and breaking barriers for future generations.

In 2021, NNPS changed four school names that did not reflect the School Board's values of inclusion and diversity. The change included the former Lee Hall Elementary School, now named Katherine G. Johnson Elementary School.

Joseph Thomas Newsome (1869-1942)

J. T. Newsome

After graduating from Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (now known as Virginia State University) in 1894, Joseph Newsome went on to earn a law degree from Howard University Law School and was valedictorian of his class. Mr. Newsome was one of two African American attorneys who successfully made an appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeals (now known as the Supreme Court of Virginia) for the 1931 case of Davis v. Allen, where Black residents of Hampton were prevented from registering to vote. He went on to found and lead the Warwick County Colored Voters League, which advocated for community improvement, schools and voter registration. Joseph Newsome was an early activist in finding a site for Huntington High School. Mr. Newsome was also an editor at The Newport News Star, a weekly Black newspaper, where he wrote editorials from 1923-1940. At the time of his passing, Mr. Newsome was the state president of the Old Dominion Bar Association.

A World War II housing project for Black defense workers was named in his honor. Newsome Park contained 2,600 units an elementary school and a small retail strip. At the time it was built in 1943, Newsome Park school had 27 classrooms and would house 500 students in first through seventh grade. The school still carries his name.

Lutrelle F. Palmer, Sr. (1888-1950)

L. F. Palmer, Sr.

Lutrelle F. Palmer, Sr. was the first principal of Huntington High School when it opened in 1920. Dr. Palmer oversaw expansion of the four-room facility to an eight-class school in 1921, but the larger school was overcrowded immediately. After much lobbying by Black citizens for "a real high school," the principal oversaw construction of a three-story school on Marshall Avenue, which opened in January 1924. Dr. Palmer also opened Huntington High School (now Huntington Middle School) in 1936. He served as the principal of Huntington for 23 years.

Palmer worked tirelessly on behalf of the school and its students, according to his daughter Dorothy Palmer Smith. A 1972 Daily Press article noted his mentorship of students and community involvement. He served as chairman of the Slum Clearance Committee in 1937 and helped write a report to Newport News City Council that resulted in the creation of a city housing authority. Palmer was active in a number of church and civic groups, too. But it was his advocacy for equal pay for Black and white teachers that struck a nerve. Dr. Palmer also helped start the Virginia Teachers' Association. Lutrelle Palmer was one of the leaders of the Newport News Negro Teachers' Association who was fired by the School Board because of his fight for equal pay. After his dismissal, he went on to work at Hampton Institute (now Hampton University).

Palmer Elementary School was dedicated in May 1972 and is named in honor of Lutrelle F. Palmer, Sr.

Major General John Henry Stanford (1938-1998)

Gen. Stanford

Major General John Henry Stanford served in the Pentagon as military assistant to the Under Secretary of the Army during the Carter administration, and as Executive Secretary to Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinburger during the Reagan administration. During his 30-year military career, Major General Stanford served two tours at Fort Eustis and served as the commanding general for the Military Traffic Management Command.

In 1991 he retired from the military as a major general. He served as Superintendent in Seattle for three years, during which the school district began an impressive reform. Under his visionary guidance, academic achievement improved, morale soared and popular support for schools rose dramatically. Major General Stanford became a hero in Seattle and a focus of national attention.

In June 1999 the Newport News School Board accepted an offer from Fort Eustis to build a new elementary school on base with the requirement that the new school carry the name Major General John Henry Stanford Elementary School. Construction on the new elementary school began in May 2002 and opened its doors to students in November of 2003. It is the first and only Newport News public school to be built on a military installation.

Booker Taliaferro Washington (1856-1915)

B. T. Washington

Booker T. Washington was an American educator, author, orator, and advisor to Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. In 1871, he moved to Hampton, Virginia to Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, now Hampton University, to train as a teacher. Washington went on and studied at Wayland Seminary, but return to Hampton in 1879 as a professor. In 1881 at the age of 25, he was named as the first leader of The Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now known as Tuskegee Institute) in Alabama, and would remain there until his death in 1915. Booker T. Washington's most notable hire was George Washington Carver, who taught agriculture at the institute in 1896. Washington was granted an honorary Masters of Arts degree from Harvard University in 1896 and an honorary Doctorate degree from Dartmouth College in 1901. He was the first African American to be invited to the White House when President Theodore Roosevelt invited him to dinner. Roosevelt's successor, President William Howard Taft continue to use Washington as an advisor on racial matters.

The original Booker T. Washington School was built on 32nd Street between Chestnut and Oak avenues in 1901 and had 4 rooms. In 1917 the building was remodeled and four additional rooms were added. Booker T. Washington Middle School, as we know it currently was established in 1928 and contained eighteen classrooms. Additions to the school were built in 1935 and 1952. B.T. Washington Middle School was closed in 2003 for extensive renovations and was reopened in 2006.

Dorothy Roles Watkins (1909-1974)

Dorothy R. Watkins

Dorothy R. Watkins was an elementary school teacher who moved to the Peninsula in 1933 and taught for nine years at Booker T. Washington Elementary School in Newport News. During her tenure, she joined the Newport News Negro Teachers' Association, an organization that took up the fight for equal pay in 1940 by petitioning the School Board. Talks between the board and association failed, and on February 18, 1942, Mrs. Watkins and the teachers' association filed a suit against the Superintendent and School Board of Newport News on the basis of equal pay for black educators. In 1943, a federal court ruled in Watkins' favor, but the School Board refused to comply with the court order for over two years. Watkins and five other leaders of the Newport News Negro Teachers' Association were fired by the School Board. She sued the School Board to be reinstated, but the court sided with the board saying it could hire and fire at will.

Mrs. Watkins went on to work for the Warwick School System until 1958 when the cities and school systems of Warwick and Newport News consolidated. She continued to teach elementary school for NNPS until her retirement in 1973. In 1974, Dorothy Roles Watkins was appointed to the Newport News School Board, and in 1976, the Dorothy R. Watkins Educational Center was named in her honor. The building has had varied uses over the years and today is known as Watkins Early Childhood Center.