Let’s see what information can be gathered based on this one particular photograph from July 30, 1921:
W. H. Land, Walter Henry Land was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1869. He was the son of Marshall, a “power in the Baptist ministry,” and Sophia Land nee Harris. Walter Henry Land earned his law degree from Howard University and returned to Norfolk to practice. An August 16, 1896 Norfolk Virginian news article described the attempted charity of Atty. Land, who found that he got more than he bargained for in an aim to help his “brother.” In 1900, W.H. Land was among those appointed notary public by Virginia governor, James Hoge Tyler. In 1931, Land briefly represented William L. Harper, a black man who had been accused of of attacking a white woman, Dorothy Skaggs.
W.H. Land was the first president of the Norfolk Colored Bar Association. Walter Henry Land married Nelcie Branch and they had six children, Alphonzo, Vera, Walter Henry Jr., Lola, Bernice, and Branch. W.H. Land was an attorney for the appellant in the May 1, 1944 Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia case, Eureka Lodge No. 5 v. Eureka Lodge Modern Elks, 182 Va. 652 (1944) Record No. 2778 182 Va. 652. Walter Henry Land Sr. passed away in 1945.
V. C. Hodges, Virnol Clingman Hodges, son of Clingman and Julia Hodges nee Harris, was born October 4, 1895 in Virginia. The Norfolk Colored Bar Association photo above documents V.C. Hodges as an attorney-at-law. According to the South Hampton Roads Bar Association History page on their website, In 1923, the Tidewater Bar Association was formed and V.C. Hodges was elected corresponding secretary. According to the 1930 US Census, V.C. Hodges was working as a preacher and married to Annie. Per his WWII Draft Registration Card, he was employed with the American Bible Society. He passed away on June 19, 1968 in Cleveland, Ohio.
W. L. Davis, Walter L. Davis was born in Petersburg, Virginia about 1892. He was a graduate of Howard Law School and married Lygretta Brown. They had one daughter named Annie. In 1915, Davis opened a law office in Norfolk. Davis entered the U.S. Army during WWI and attended officers training school. He was elected the inaugural president of the Tidewater Bar Association in 1923. In 1940, according to the U.S. Census record, he and his wife lived at 809 “A” Avenue. Walter L. Davis passed away in 1963 and was buried in Calvary Cemetery.
J. M. Harrison, James Minnis Harrison, the son of Samuel Henry and Louisa Harrison nee Hunter, was born February 7, 1873, in Norfolk, Virginia. He graduated from Howard Law School in 1908, and began a law practice office in Norfolk. He first married Louise Wright and had daughter, Jeanette, and later Rena Manigault.
On June 23, 1911 the Times Dispatch newspaper reported that James M. Harrison was a lawyer in the case of James E. Mills, trusted and grand exalted ruler of the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World, against J. Frank Wheaton.
In 1928, Harrison testified in the State of New York Supreme Court-Appellate Division case of Jennie Holt vs. The Grand Temple of the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World.
Atty. Harrison is cross-examined by none other than Ruth Whitehead Whaley, one of the earliest black women to practice law in the U.S.
In addition to being a lawyer, Harrison was a businessman, journalist and published poet. After a fall at his law office, James M. Harrison passed away on January 5, 1940. He was survived by his wife, Rena, and two daughters.
L.A. Howell, La Fayette A. Howell was born about 1890 in Virginia. He was a part of Howard Law School’s class of 1916, and was elected court crier, according to the November 12, 1915 edition of The Howard University Journal. Per the 1930 U.S. Census, Howell was divorced and living on Church Street in Norfolk. Howell argued cases that were presented in the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia. Records show that Howell was included in a warrant regarding an issue for a $25.00 check at Broad Street Bank in Richmond. The check was drawn by L.A. Howell, payable at and certified by Union Commercial Bank of Norfolk for same amount to pay for the charter fee…since paid into the State treasury. The previous matter may have involved a venture called The Olympians. Per an article from The Suffolk News-Herald, Volume 9, Number 57, 27 May 1931: A charter was granted to The Olympians, Incorprated, Norfolk, Va., non stock corporation, Charles J. Whiting, president, Norfolk, Va., to operate a club for social, recreational, literary, fraternal, and beneficial purposes, L.A. Howell, attorney, Norfolk, Va. L.A. Howell was also a charter member of the Lambda Omega Omega Psi Phi chapter in Norfolk.
W. H. Thomas, William H. or Henry W. Thomas was born January 25, 1877 in Norfolk, Virginia. He was the son of Albert and Louise Thomas nee Mackey. He was married to the former Mary Billups and they had at least six children. Per the 1910 U.S. Census, Thomas and family were living on James Street and he was working as a barber. In 1920, per the census, the family was living on Chapel Street and Thomas was still working as a barber. The photo of Thomas in the above 1921 dated Norfolk Colored Bar Association photo, is evidence that he was a lawyer by then. Indeed, the 1930 U.S. Census shows that Thomas owned his home on Chapel Street and informed the census enumerator that he was an attorney-at-law. William H. Thomas passed away on November 18, 1960 at his family home, 1630 Willoughby Avenue, in Norfolk.
R. G. L. Paige, Richard Gault Leslie Paige Jr, born May 15, 1885, in the Berkley section of Norfolk, Virginia. He was the son of R.G.L. Paige and Lillie Ann Ruffin. His father, R.G.L. Paige Sr., was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates during Reconstruction and is considered the first African American lawyer in the city of Norfolk. R.G.L. Paige Jr. was a 1908 graduate of Howard University Law School. He returned to Norfolk and opened a law office. In the spring of 1910, R.G.L. Paige married Miss Marcella Land, a teacher at Norfolk Mission College. They would go on to have six children. In 1912, Paige and a delegation of lawyer and professionals from Norfolk and Washington D.C., including, W.H.C. Brown, Dr. G. J. Bowens, C.S. Carter, E.M. Canaday, Thomas L. Jones, and L.M. King ventured to the capital to protest “this business of making the negro furnish all the votes and giving all the offices and positions of honor to the white man…” “We are going to break over and make trouble…” The precursor of the late Rep. John Lewis’ “good trouble” was documented an Evening Star newspaper article dated February 17, 1912. Paige was secretary for the Republican Party of Virginia. In 1936, Paige experienced some legal issues of his own.
After practicing law for 47 years, Paige passed away in 1963. In addition to raising their own children, R.G.L. Paige Jr. and his wife, Marcella, raised at least one grandchild. Another grandchild wrote of her extraordinary journey in learning of her family connections. R.G.L. Paige Jr.’s first cousin was Dr. Dorothy Celeste Bouding Ferebee, noted obstetrician and civil rights pioneer.
J. S. Hall, Joseph S. Hall, the son of John and Elizabeth Hall nee Powell, was born in September of 1870 in Norfolk, Virginia. A young Joseph S. Hall participated in the 1890 emancipation celebration in Norfolk, per an news article dated January 2, 1890. Hall provided an oration according to The Norfolk Virginian newspaper. Records show that Joseph S. Hall was closely aligned with the Black politico of Norfolk who clearly and actively dissented the Citizens’ Reform ticket (Prohibitionists). The Norfolk Virginian newspaper reported on May 2, 1896 that a group of men, including Hall, gathered to condemn some of the candidates of the day. Resolutions to that effect were adopted.
An edition of The Norfolk Landmark newspaper dated February 11, 1903 reported that the Citizens’ Republican League of Norfolk had been organized. Joseph S. Hall was named as temporary secretary.
An August 2, 1903 article of the same paper named the appointed delegates who were to attend the convention of the Negro Industrial Association. On December 27, 1905, he married Seleathia McKelemy Miller. According to the 1920 U.S. Census, he and his wife, Seleathia, along with three lodgers, lived at 714 Monticello Avenue in Norfolk. Mrs. Hall was mentioned in the Society section of The New York Age, after visiting her cousin in New York City in 1930. Joseph S. Hall was widowed in 1945 and he passed away on January 1, 1950 in Norfolk.
R. C. Stith, Robert C. Stith, son of Frank and Maria Stith nee Woodhouse, was born in May of 1869 in Virginia. He was one of at least eight children. Robert C. Stith was announced as a graduate of Norfolk Mission College’s class of 1888 in a May 18, 1888 news article. The Richmond Planet newspaper reported that R.C. Stith and others were “canvassing” the book, The Relic of the Rebellion, per an article dated February 15, 1896. On April 13, 1903, there is a report of Robert C. Stith injuring his arm as a result from falling from a car in Norfolk. He lived alone at 403 Queen Street, per the 1920 U.S. Census. He informed the enumerator that he was a lawyer with his own private practice. In 1930, Robert C. Stith, attorney, lived at 926 Church Street, according to the census record of that year. Robert C. Stith, who never married, passed away on December 7, 1953 in Norfolk, Virginia. According to his death record, his usual occupation was lawyer and he lived at 512 E. Bute Street.
J. E. Diggs, John Eugene Diggs, son of Fielding and Mary Ann Diggs nee Diggs was born September 6, 1880 in Chesapeake, Matthews, Virginia. In 1904, J.E. Diggs qualified to practice law in the state of Virginia by passing examination before the Virginia State Bar Association. The 1910 U.S. Census documents John Eugene Diggs as being a lawyer with a private practice. At the time, he was living with his wife of two years, the former Alieen Jones, and a lodger. They lived at 254 Cumberland Street. The 1940 U.S. Census documents that a widowed Diggs, lawyer, owned his home, which had a value of $12,000, and that he was living with his daughter, Alieen, and niece, Celestine in Norfolk. In 1949, Diggs was a member of the advisory committee to the State Board of Education on the administration of Norfolk Division of Virginia State College, which issued resolutions regarding the passing of Virginia State College president, Luther H. Foster. John Eugene Diggs, widowed yet again, passed away on August 29, 1959 in Norfolk. His death record reports that he was a self-employed lawyer at the time of his passing.
In 2020, J. Eugene Diggs’ residence was listed on the Virginia Department of Historic Resources register as a Virginia Landmarks Register and on the National Historic Register of Historic Places.
From the Virginia DHR website:
“Built between 1919 and 1923 for esteemed African American attorney J. Eugene Diggs, the Diggs Residence in Norfolk is significant for its owner’s steadfast, forceful civil rights activism and his legal work that secured social justice for people of color throughout the Norfolk and Hampton Roads area during four decades of the Jim Crow era. Among his accomplishments, Diggs was instrumental in efforts that led to the desegregation of southern Virginia’s public beaches and schools. Until Diggs’s death in 1959, his residence also served as a “safe place” in the region for visiting eminent African Americans including Thurgood Marshall and Carter G. Woodson, among other acclaimed black artists, politicians, and public figures.”
To close, one historical photograph can yield an ocean of facts. Be sure to pore over any details associated with your old family history photos. You are sure to learn something new and always remember the genealogy FAN Club Method.
Everyday is Black History. Let’s celebrate!
Book recommendation: Emancipation: The Making of the Black Lawyer 1844-1944 by J. Clay Smith Jr.
The Genealogy Situation Room