The Thomas J. Newsome House received more than 40 archival boxes for historical record preservation purposes
NEWPORT NEWS, VA – When Melissa Erlandson, a records and archives specialist at the U.S. Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, received archival boxes that were damaged but still usable, she immediately thought of the Newsome House. The charming Queen-Anne style residence was home to a prominent Civil Rights leader who welcomed the entire community.
The Newsome House is a historic landmark and Civil Rights beacon of the Newport News community. Built in 1899, it was sold to Joseph Thomas Newsome and his wife in 1906. Newsome was born to freed slaves in 1869. He graduated from Howard University as valedictorian of his class, married his college sweetheart, and chose to pursue his career as a lawyer in the burgeoning city of Newport News.
Newsome went on to have tremendous success, both in his career and as a prominent community leader. He was the first Black lawyer to practice in front of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. His notable Civil Rights initiatives included founding and leading the Warwick County Colored Voters League, and he opened his home as a community center for the people of Warwick county. After Newsome’s death in 1942, the house fell into disrepair and neglect until it was renovated in the late 1980s and reopened as a Newport News museum and cultural center in 1991.
The Newsome House is supported by the community. Despite not having a dedicated archivist, the personnel are striving to improve their archives. Erlandson said she has long been interested in the Newsome House and its history.
“I have offered to volunteer with Newsome House, and I found their staff to be fantastic to work with. I see a responsibility to help out where help is needed, especially for smaller archives unable to afford their own archivists,” Erlandson said.
Stepping inside the house is like walking into the early 20th century – there’s an air of urgency and change settled within the handsomely decorated home, containing historical documents, such as ledgers from 1912, primary sources for the roots to our community’s existence.
“He actually has a huge hunk of history of the south end of the city in there. It just needs attention and organization,” Erlandson said.
The forty-some boxes Erlandson took to the Newsome House are specially created to house historical documents. The boxes are attuned to the acidity of the contents within and are designed for optimal storage over time. Erlandson had ordered the boxes originally for the Jefferson Lab archives and discovered upon their arrival that some of the boxes had been damaged during shipment. The vendor replaced the damaged boxes but did not want the damaged ones returned, so Erlandson chose to reuse rather than recycle the boxes by offering them to the Newsome House for their archival papers. The disposition of the damaged materials followed established government procedures.
Erlandson recognized that acknowledging the importance of our local history means taking initiative to care for historical local landmarks of culture. The simple act of reusing boxes has provided a needed path of historical preservation for years to come.
“Our history is important, like our science and our way forward is important. How did we get here? What’s gonna happen next? It’s dependent on what has already happened,” she said. "I'm hoping that with these resources and others, Newsome House can continue the great work they do.”
By Skyler Tolzien-Orr
Contact: Kandice Carter, Jefferson Lab Communications Office, firstname.lastname@example.org