About

The History of the Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum

In the face of being excluded from using the Portsmouth’s main library, a committee of black citizens led by St. James Episcopal Church pastor Rev. M. B. Birchette, worked from the late 1920s on to establish a library that Portsmouth’s African American citizens could use.  In 1937 a reading room at the church was opened.  The reading room was partially funded through the New Deal-era National Youth Administration (NYS).  Unfortunately the funding ran out in 1941 and it closed.

The Portsmouth Library Association took up the cause and raised funds for land on which to build the library and worked with the city government to see it completed in 1945.

On December 20, 1945, the tiny 900 square foot Portsmouth Community Library opened on South Street.  Unlike other communities where “Colored” or “Negro” branch libraries were created as smaller or separate off-springs of segregated white libraries, the Portsmouth Community Library is the recognized brain-child of the African American Society itself. Not only did the community count on the library for books, but it became a community resource that housed clothing drives, organized Negro History Week programs, and provided other services.

In 1963, the library closed its doors as a result of a law suit that led to the integration of the city’s public library, opening those doors to all of Portsmouth’s citizens.

In 1967, the building moved a few blocks to the parking lot of Ebenezer Baptist Church saving it from demolition and giving it new life serving as a meeting space for the church.

Today:  In 2007 the building again moved to its present location at 904 Elm Street due to the perseverance of the Portsmouth African American Historical Society led by Mae Breckenridge Haywood.  Through a partnership with the City, the building was renovated and reopened as the Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum in 2013.

Here the library’s legacy can be explored through exhibits and programs that increase knowledge of African American history, foster literacy and promote the respect for diversity.

Today: In 2007 the building again moved to its present location at 904 Elm Street due to the perseverance of the Portsmouth African American Historical Society led by Mae Breckenridge Haywood.  Through a partnership with the City, the building was renovated and reopened as the Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum in 2013.

Here the library’s legacy can be explored through exhibits and programs that increase knowledge of African American history, foster literacy and promote the respect for diversity.




Copyright 2016 City of Portsmouth, VA
website by Arengee

904 Elm Avenue, Portsmouth, VA 23704 · 757-393-8983, ext. 20
Mailing Address: 521 Middle Street, Portsmouth, VA 23704
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 Street. The land at this new location was purchased with donations made by Portsmouth citizens, black and white.