Inside the Newport News Projects
Newport News, a city of 180,000, has always had a rich history within its urban communities as the city’s Downtown section has produced famous musicians and athletes, from Ella Fitzgerald to Allen Iverson.
The downtown section of Newport News is a historic black community as African-Americans have been in this community for generations that dates as far as the 1800s, especially with the help of nearby HBCU Hampton University.
Located in Virginia’s coastal region of the Hampton Roads, this region’s multiple shipyards have for generations provided thousands of jobs for many African-Americans, whether from enlistment in the Navy or working for private companies.
As the city of Newport News combined with the former of city of Warwick and the city’s center relocated miles away to Oyster Point, the era of people labeling the Downtown community as the Newport News ghetto began with a decline in the community.
For the longest the Newport News ghetto has been its own community separated and segregated as the city is divided between Uptown, northern Newport News, and Downtown, Southeast Newport News, as the dividing lines are often disputed.
What is not disputed is the housing projects within the Newport News ghetto, which were built as either wartime housing or for workers in the shipyards, are the heart of the Downtown community.
The former Woodsong housing projects, along the infamous Ivy Avenue which is home to other Newport News ghetto housing complexes, has at times been labeled as one of Virginia’s roughest communities.
Before its demolishing, the complex was completely impoverished, rundown, and had a failure in upkeep after being built during the early 1970s and only lasted less than 30 years.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the complex of over 400 housing units or apartments gained a reputation that brought fear to many when the mention of Woodsong was brought up in a conversation.
Across from the old location of Woodsong is Ridley Place, or locally known as Ridley Circle, an old housing complex that was once the childhood neighborhood of former NFL quarterback, Michael Vick.
Today, Ridley Circle is one of the last standing original housing complexes of Newport News as the city is has been talks to either demolish or renovate the housing project.
Located off Jefferson Avenue was the old Dickerson Courts and Harbor Homes, which equaled to over 500 apartment units after being constructed during the 1940s and 1950s.
Like other housing projects of Newport News, the Dickerson Courts and the smaller and neighboring Harbor Homes had a fierce reputation in the streets of Virginia until its demolishing during the beginning of the 2010s.
Just below I-664 around Marshall Avenue is the Marshall Courts and Seven Oaks housing complexes, two of the last original housing project complexes in Downtown Newport News.
Before the 1960s, the Marshall Courts was an all-white housing project as many white families still lived in the Newport News’ Downtown section until their exit from the area during the 1960s and 1970s.
North of the Marshall Courts was the once all-black complex of Newsome Park and the once all-white complex of Copeland Park.
By the 1970s, the Copeland Park housing projects were demolished and became a memory of Newport News as white families moved further Uptown, while Newsome Park was eventually rebuilt with its own reputation.
Currently, Downtown Newport News is prime real estate to any developer or hipster as some sections sit just walking distance from Newport’s undeveloped waterfront, an area with much potential.
As gentrification is running rampant around the country, the demolishing of housing complexes has relocated many from Downtown Newport News into other communities that may include neighboring Hampton, Virginia or Uptown Newport News.
While the city’s black community was always based in the Downtown community, also known as the East End or Southeast Newport News, the black population has been moving further north into Uptown Newport, especially north of Oyster Point along Warwick Blvd.
The original city center of Newport News, before the relocation to Oyster Point, that is located around Huntington Avenue, west of I-664, is rebuilding and slowly bringing more life into an area that had been on a decline for years.
These facts should hopefully explain what had happened to the city and the current state of the Newport News ghetto, a community that is in Virginia’s most thriving area, the Hampton Roads home to colleges, Virginia Beach, and numerous shipyards.
*Note: All information is provided through people of the community, outside sources, and research. Some information might not be current and/or 100% accurate.