NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Inside Norfolk State University’s Lyman Beecher Brooks Library, Dr. Tommy Bogger scans through the shelves of books and articles he spent years collecting.
“Norfolk State is everything to me,” he said, and it has been for decades.
Dr. Bogger ran the school’s archives for years and knows everything there is to know about the historically Black university.
“During the depression, there were not many opportunities. It was difficult for parents to send their kids away for four years to college,” he said.
Dr. Bogger says community leaders came together and decided a two-year institution should be established in Norfolk to cut down on expenses.
“It started very modestly, three rooms in the Hunton YMCA on Brambleton Avenue. They only had about four or five faculty members, four or five resources, but it’s grown into what you’ve seen today,” he said.
The school, officially founded on September 18, 1935, has grown from 85 students to more than 5,000 and even more alumni, like Bogger.
Bogger graduated from the school in 1968. The Williamsburg native started out at Howard University, towards a career in medicine, but he transferred to NSU after his father died.
“I didn’t know how I could stay in school with my father being gone,” Bogger said.
He switched his major to history when he arrived at Norfolk State because of his involvement with the Civil Rights marching while a student at Howard, and because of Williamsburg’s roots in American History.
Bogger says he loved his time as a student.
“We didn’t realize how good we were really. This was before white univerisities started admitting Black students on a large scale,” he said. “We had very, very outstanding students here. We didn’t have great facilities, but we had caring professors who brought us along and prepared us for graduate school and life in general.”
Bogger returned to Norfolk State, where he started up the archives department in thanks to the support of former President Harrison B. Wilson.
“In my early research, I had to do so much traveling to Washington, D.C. and Richmond to go to other universities. During our 50th anniversary, under Dr. Wilson, I was able to talk to him about perhaps having an archives here at Norfolk State that would help us collect our history and promote scholarship,” he said. “Dr. Wilson had come to Norfolk State from Fisk. He was aware of the role of archives because Fisk had one of the best archives in the country.”
Since then, the archives at Norfolk State has grown under Bogger’s direction, until he retired six years ago.
Learning and collecting the universitiy’s history has shown him how influential the school has been in the community and he hopes others will see it too.
“It has brought about making change here in Hampton Roads. It’s the way it’s touched lives, the lives of people who haven’t dreamed about going to college but because it was economical for them to stay at home and commute to campus. It’s reasonable,” Bogger said. ” Even those adults who wanted change in their life because we had a comprehensive evening college program. It was easy for people to work during the day and take classes at night to get a degree where they could change their profession. It enhanced the lives of many people in different ways.”
WAVY TV 10 is partnering with Norfolk State for the university’s first Virginia Senatorial Debate. The 90-minute debate between Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), and his Republican challenger, Daniel Gade, Ph.D., will be held on campus at the L. Douglas Wilder Performing Arts Center on October 3 and will be streamed live on WAVY.com and on WAVY-TV 10’s Facebook Live channel.