Black Catholic Church in Norfolk that was refuge during segregation honored with marker


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A historical marker was unveiled in downtown Norfolk signifying the spot where the city’s only black Catholic church and school during segregation.

Earlier this year, 10 On Your Side reported about members of the Basilica of St. Mary’s of the Immaculate Conception working to get the marker installed.  

Dozens gathered on Freemason Street on Wednesday morning despite cold temperatures to celebrate the marker during Black Catholic History Month.

“The joy this brings me, and I know in the hearts of so many others, will love on and (we’ll) pass it on through stories to your children, your grandchildren because now we have a marker and they say a picture is worth a thousand words,” said Melvina Herbert, who was instrumental in getting it erected.

Herbert said she originally contacted councilman Paul Riddick, who put her in contact with the city clerk to get the project completed.

Riddick, Mayor Kenny Alexander, and other city officials were also on hand for the unveiling.

St. Joseph’s was opened in 1889 by Josephite priests. The school closed in 1961 but not before leaving a lasting legacy in the black community. Herbert says it was more than just a church and school for many. It was a staple in the community.

According to the marker, it’s where the city’s first marching band and football team were established.

Reginald Ruffin, who is now 86 years old, remembers first attending the school in 1939.

“This is awesome. This is an honor not just to St. Joseph but to the city for what St. Joseph produced among the African American people,” Ruffin said.

Herbert said the education instilled by the religious who taught them helped many pave a way in careers and opportunities not once offered to African Americans.

“They told us we could do whatever we wanted,” she said.

Herbert said the marker is not only a tribute but a thank you to all those who came before them.

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