Sociology Professor Uncovers Background on Norfolk Civil Rights Advocate
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Sociology Professor Uncovers Background on Norfolk Civil Rights Advocate
Brian Beard
Dr. Colita Fairfax

Dr. Colita Nichols Fairfax, associate professor in the Ethelyn R. Strong School of Social Work at Norfolk State University, continues her research and community advocacy to integrate the contributions of African-American women in Virginia in the public domain. Gov. Terry McAuliffe appointed Fairfax to the State Board of Historic Resources in 2016, and she is working to leave a legacy of committed stewardship to the post.

In May, Fairfax spoke at the unveiling of the Ella Baker historical marker on Church Street. Baker was extremely instrumental in leadership development of young people in civil rights groups such as SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), CORE (Congress of Racial Equality), the NAACP and the MFDP (Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party). She was born in Norfolk’s Huntersville community in 1903. Her family later moved to North Carolina. Baker is known for the saying, “Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers' sons, is as important as the killing of White men, White mothers' sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.” During the civil rights movement, most of the visible Black leadership were men. However, Black women engaged in community development and mobilization efforts through developing young people, as Norfolk’s own Vivian Carter Mason, whom Fairfax has written about, did with the Norfolk 17 during Massive Resistance.

Baker was instrumental in galvanizing Shaw University students (her alma mater) and North Carolina A&T students, to participate in peaceful demonstrations in North Carolina. Her role was not an easy one, but she believed that the struggle had to engage young people in order for it to have legitimacy for the next generation.

Fairfax is the only African-American on the State Board of Historic Resources. When she learned that the marker was going to be placed near the Chrysler Museum/Hall, she advocated for it to be erected closer to Huntersville where Baker was born. "The visibility of markers is a community push, because it notes that the community is related to a personality that changed society. Markers are symbols of historic value, of pride and of a sense of community accomplishment." The public may read the Baker marker on Church Street near Graves Funeral Home. Referring to the historical marker, Fairfax said, "I believe that this kind of community development activity adds cultural assets that may be parlayed into greater efforts of mobilization and advancement. We must not reduce historical markers to only relics of the past, but symbols of cultural data, collective memory and engagement for generations who inhabit these areas."