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The Portsmouth School Board issued a proclamation February 23 recognizing the importance of Norcom’s history.

Before it was Norcom High, and before it was the High Street School, it was the Chestnut Street School. Israel Charles Norcom was principal.

The school opened in 1878, serving Black elementary and high school students. It went through many moves and name changes – making it hard to track its history.

Roderick Hawthorne went to Norcom, and is part of the alumni association. This year he thought he was planning the school’s 110th anniversary – but the more he looked, the more history he found.

“Going through as many old records as I could find that were still available about Mr. Norcom and the Chestnut Street School,we came to find out that it was actually 145 years old," Hawthorne said.

Based on his research, he thinks Norcom is one of the oldest Black high schools left in the country.

For Hawthorne, Norcom’s story is bigger than just Portsmouth.

“We have been seeing as a nation here lately how a lot of people have been trying to erase Black history from being taught in schools,” he said.

Hawthorne said it’s essential to realize Black history is American history.

“This honor is basically a massive love letter, you know, to Norcom and acknowledging the history of Norcom,” he said. “And what it means not only to the community, but for the nation at large.”

Portsmouth Public Schools is a member of the Hampton Roads Educational Telecommunications Association, which owns the license to WHRO.