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Colored Notes by Jeffrey T. Wilson

During the period August, 1924 through March 1929, Jeffrey T. Wilson wrote a column for the Portsmouth Star about social events in the African-American community in Portsmouth , Virginia . The first columns appeared as “Colored Notes” by J. T. Wilson. The articles could be found in the section of the newspaper near the “Want Ads” and only had one column of information. Later, the columns were increased to sometimes three to four columns. The location of the columns was generally at the bottom of the page along with other classified ads.

“Colored Notes” reported on a variety of events (births, deaths, marriages, and anniversaries), social items (visitors to Portsmouth and travelers from Portsmouth to other places), cultural events (plays, lectures, concerts, church programs which would include a special program from quartets or other musical groups) and organizational news (schools, churches, lodges, social and savings clubs). The column appeared daily and Jeffrey Wilson would tell the citizens where to leave “notes” which would be included in the articles for publication. These articles were published daily until Jeffrey T. Wilson died in June, 1929.

Jeffrey T. Wilson started wrote the articles from the late age of eighty until his death at age eighty-six. He sometimes referred to himself by the pseudonym of “ye scribe.” Once , when challenged about his qualifications for writing the notes , he countered… “Some people want to know who “ye scribe” is, where did he come from, etc.; he was born here a slave, on South Street; has lived here practically all his fourscore years and knows personally of all he write about… He is an active member of Emanuel AME Church and is superintendent of the Sunday school. He is employed with the U.S. Court in Norfolk . He was once active in political parties. ( Colored Notes , Dec. 10, 1924). The Wilson Chronicles , as they have been sometimes referred to , were the wisdom of an old man who wrote first about his church ( his beloved Emanuel AME ) , his family, and the people of Portsmouth . He was a religious man, a family man, and an honest man. He states in his notes that he was married four times and outlived all four wives! Old Jeff has a living daughter, Blanche Wilson Bridge of Ettrick, Virginia who can tell you about her father. Blanche, said once that, “if he had not been so old, they would have lynched him.”

Jeffrey T. Wilson would encourage his reading public to go to the polls to vote. He would often make comments on events and how they affected blacks. He was outspoken and often would make “cracks” or take “verbal shots” at the white power structure. Once he referred to the “white power structure as “white lilies.” He did not feel he had to worry about how people would interpret his message. He had deep feelings about many things and he expressed these ideas through the medium of the daily newspaper.

Jeffrey T. Wilson was well-respected in the community of Lincolnsville in Portsmouth . Blanche Wilson Bridge remembers that her father went to church every day except Saturday. He was known for walking about the city to get to his destination. He was a commanding figure wherever he went---tall, straight as an arrow, goateed, lively of step; he was a cultured gentleman of the old school… beloved and esteemed by white and colored alike. (July 16, 1950 written by Lee F. Rodgers).

The notes include names, activities, information about people in Portsmouth , organization or events when details were published. Obituaries of some people are given in depth… for example, the obit. of Ida Barbour, written on July 18, 1925 who is buried in Mt. Calvary Cemetery is given in the notes. The name of many other people who died during this time is given and the cemetery that they were buried in is mentioned in many cases.

Colored Notes
in the Portsmouth Star written by Jeffrey T. Wilson, 1924-1929 are located in the newspaper on microfilm at the Portsmouth Public Library. They may be viewed in the library and photocopies of these columns are available.

Colored Notes Index and Colored Notes Columns from the Portsmouth Star, 1924.
Presentation on Feb. 5, 2009 at Portsmouth Public Library

Jeffrey T. Wilson, Twenty years after the Civil War was deeded on December 1, 1884, with love and affection from his mother, Mary A. Taylor, “all of that certain lot in the village of Lincolnsville, on the north side of Carroll Street (638 Carroll ST) the lot of land conveyed to the said Mary A. Taylor who signed the deed with {her mark] to Jeffrey T. Wilson, of the said county of Norfolk in the State of Virginia of the second part.

Jeffrey T. Wilson commanded the attention of about 30 friends, librarians, and historians on February 5, 2009 at the local history room in the Portsmouth Public Library. Mae Breckenridge-Haywood introduced a new resource to the audience assembled. During the 1920’s reading was a popular recreational activity especially during the winter months when other forms of activity were limited. There was a thrust to bring African-American life into the literary scene and so “white newspapers” designed special columns to entice African American readers. Very early on, the Evening Progress, the newspaper in Petersburg, Virginia, had articles called “Colored Dots” written by Otelia Richardson Wyche and was designed for African American readers. Alexandria, Virginia had articles in the Alexandria Gazette written by Estelle Lane which were called, “News of Interest to Colored Readers.” Then, in the little historic town of Portsmouth, Virginia, the Portsmouth Star developed a column called “Colored Notes.” Jeffrey T. Wilson was the writer tabbed to write the articles which were not “gossip or scandal but wholesome and intelligent news.”

Mae Breckenridge-Haywood, a retired school librarian and President of the African American Historical Society of Portsmouth, Inc., has done research for the past twelve years. She is the co-author of two books, Inscriptions in Triumph and Black America: Portsmouth, Virginia. Breckenridge-Haywood is the compiler of the articles and created the “Index to Colored Notes.” The index is an alphabetical listing of the events (births, deaths, marriages, and anniversaries), social items (visitors to Portsmouth and travelers from Portsmouth to other places), cultural events (plays, lectures, concerts, church programs which would include a special program from quartets or other musical groups) and organizational news (schools, churches, lodges, social and savings clubs). The column appeared daily and Jeffrey T. Wilson would tell the citizens where to leave the “notes.” First, they left the articles at 416 Effingham Street and then at Bass Drug Store located at 223 S. Green Street. The articles wer published daily from 1924 until Wilson died in June, 1929. The “Index to Colored Notes” is online at the Portsmouth Public Library website and linked to the Local History section. The website for the Portsmouth Public Library where the index is accessible is: In addition to the reference resource, Breckenridge-Haywood developed an 11x17 poster of the index for area librarians, reference copies of the reprint articles which can also be located on microfilm in the library, pictures of the schools, principals, bookmarks, and note cards. Persons who attended this event came in from Newport News as well as from the Hampton Roads area despite the weather of twenty four degrees outside. The audience was given note cards of the Bass Drug Store which is where the “Colored Notes” were dropped off by Portsmouth citizens to be published in the newspaper. The Hampton Roads area libraries which will have a reference copy of the Columns are: Portsmouth Public Library, Norfolk Public Library, Chesapeake Public Library, and Virginia Beach Public Library. Breckenridge-Haywood received a grant of $5,500 from the city of Portsmouth and the Portsmouth Museums and the Fine Arts Commission to develop the index.  

Written by Mae Breckenridge-Haywood, President
African American Historical Society of Portsmouth

Jeffrey T. Wilson


Other Items of Interest

Jeffrey Wilson's Obituary

Sample "Colored Notes"

As Printed: "The Colored Notes"

Jeffrey Wilson: Colored Notes
By Carlos Seward



Selma Steward, President of AAHGS-Hampton Roads Chapter said:
"...the Index and the book...they are wonderful, since I wasn't going anywhere I sat down and read the articles..they are an incredible source of information about Portsmouth during that time frame. Who the heck is V.T. Thomas (R. V. Richards) with the bus service whose ad appears before J.T. (Jeffrey T. Wilson) takes over. The wonder about Wilson is that he not only provides the information about Portsmouth in the 1920's but that he is able to provide information about people and places prior to emancipation. Good heavens his mother was 16 when Lafayette comes back to VA to visit...and in another the gentlemen whose name escapes me (Davy Blair who was 101 years old) gets his Confederate Pension of $25.00 a year. Where the heck are you going to get that information from? It is a treasure and you are to be commended for bringing this resource to the attention of everyone, and making this index available to everyone."

Cecelia Brown and her mother, Bessie Liverman came to the unveiling of "Colored Notes". Cecilia said: "Excellent presentation. I remember the Colored Notes as a young girl in the 50’ and early 60’s, when Mr. Lee F. Rodgers wrote them. Excellent resource."

Corey Thornton said:
"He liked the organization of information indexed for easy access for everyone."

Pat Hines said:
"Very impressive, the amount of information. Our younger generation needs this vital information. This presentation needs to be presented to school age children and youth for Black History Month."

Anne Kinken Johnson said:
"Many researchers would be thrilled to have access to this resource.