An unprecedented year in Portsmouth politics is over. The NAACP is hopeful for 2021.


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — 2020 was a tumultuous year for Portsmouth. The city of 94,000 people made national headlines when a protest of the city’s Confederate monument turned dangerous, Black leaders were charged with crimes, and city government management went into a tailspin. 

The late civil rights icon John Lewis said “get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” The head of the Portsmouth NAACP says he did just that in the summer of 2020 in bringing down a symbol of racism. 

Protesters gather in Portsmouth at the Confederate monument. A man was injured when demonstrators toppled one of the soldier statues. (Photo credit: Jomarie Javier)

“Good trouble” came at a cost. Leaders of the Portsmouth NAACP were placed in handcuffs while protesting the Confederate monument in downtown Portsmouth. 

Louie Gibbs, officer of the Portsmouth NAACP

Days later the monument was toppled in a display seen around the nation, with part of the monument severely injuring a man

Protesters gather in Portsmouth at the Confederate monument. A man was injured when demonstrators toppled one of the soldier statues. (Photo courtesy: Jomarie Javier)

The “good trouble” peaked when 19 people including officers of the NAACP, State Senator Louise Lucas, and others were slapped with serious felony charges that were later dismissed.

On this first day of 2021, the head of the Portsmouth NAACP has set a new course with hopes of improved race relations in the majority African-American city.

“This was a challenging year for a lot of reasons; our city is the better for the sacrifices and the struggles,” Boyd said. Boyd and others who brought down the symbol of racism are now focusing on bringing down the instruments of racism. Boyd will start the process by calling for a level playing field for Blacks in business.

James Boyd and Louie Gibbs of Portsmouth NAACP

“Obviously with the casino and other things coming on board we want to make sure our city has standards in place that make sure that Black business owners, Black entrepreneurs have the same opportunities as anybody else,” Boyd said.

On education, Boyd says renaming schools will set the stage for improved educational opportunities for minorities.

“Where we are taking down the symbols of the Confederacy one by one so that out kids can get history not only of the past, certainly to get a vision of the future, inclusive, and one that is not offensive to them. We are also looking at suspension rates and there are other things we want to take a look at,” Boyd said.

The ugly episodes of 2020 in Portsmouth also exposed an effort to undermine the city’s top prosecutor. The police department attempted an end-run on Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales, who is Black, by calling her as a witness in the statue destruction criminal case. That effort failed in court with a Richmond-based judge issuing a scathing rebuke of the police department.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales and staff
(Photo: Regina Mobley/WAVY)

Boyd is closely watching what happens early this year in City Hall. The new city council with a Black Mayor Shannon Glover and Black majority will hire a new city attorney and a new city manager who will hire the new police chief. Chief Angela Greene was fired this fall after being placed on leave following the arrest of the “Portsmouth 19.”

Photo: Regina Mobley/WAVY
Portsmouth Mayor Shannon Glover

“In terms of policing, we have a long way to go on that; we’ve got a new city manager who has to be in place; we have a police chief that needs to be in place; we still have a [police] department that is still concerning — still not at a place where we can have trust between officer and community yet but we are working on it,” Boyd said.

For more Portsmouth news, click here.

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