Five things you need to know: Local civil rights leaders

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Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King speaks with members of First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, including Pastor David Collins (right) in June 1962. (Photo courtesy First Baptist Church)
Dr. Martin Luther King speaks with members of First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, including Pastor David Collins (right) in June 1962. (Photo courtesy First Baptist Church)

Black History Month is February and this week’s edition of “Five Things You Need to Know,” features several civil rights leaders with ties to Hampton Roads and the Greater Virginia Peninsula.

Brian Smalls, president of the York- James City-Williamsburg branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, compiled of list of five individuals and groups he thought should be featured for the piece.

  1. Rev. David Collins–was president of the York-James City-Williamsburg NAACP in the early 1960s. Collins was also a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He pastored The Historic First Baptist Church and was pastor there when Martin L. King, Jr. came in June 1962 to deliver a message. He led demonstrations that resulted in improvement in hiring practices for local businesses and integration of lunch counters. Collins mentored students at Bruton Heights School about peaceful resistance during the Civil Rights era.
  2. Beulah Wallace–in the 1960s she was elected chairwoman of the Freedom Fund Committee for the YJCW NAACP; she was vital to the success of the organization for many years. During her tenure as chairwoman of the Freedom Fund Committee the YJCW NAACP branch was the largest contributor to the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP.
  3. Judge Joseph A. Jordan, Jr.–a lawyer on the front lines of the civil rights movement in Norfolk. He was elected to the Norfolk City Council becoming the first African American to be elected to a position on the council in the 20th Century. He went on to become vice mayor of Norfolk before becoming a general district court judge in Norfolk.
  4. Rev. Milton Reid–Pastored Norfolk’s New Calvary Baptist Church during the height of the civil rights movement. He protested, was jailed multiple times, demonstrated and fought valiantly for blacks in Norfolk. Reid was a contemporary and friend of Martin Luther King, Jr., even having him deliver a message at his church. He was the founder of the Virginia Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
  5. The Norfolk 17–group of black children that integrated the Norfolk Public School System in the Fall of 1959. Gov. J. Lindsay Almond shut down all the white schools in Norfolk instead of letting the black children in. When the state Supreme Court ruled that the governor’s massive resistance movement was unconstitutional, the schools reopened and the Norfolk 17 went to previously all white schools. They were mocked, ridiculed, spat on but never backed down; they were the leaders who ultimately led to more black children being able to go to these previously segregated schools.

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