History of I.C. Norcom
After World War I, the Chestnut School at Chestnut and Clifford streets opened in a building that cost $133,680. The first class to be graduated from this building in June, 1915. Nine students graduated in a ceremony held at Zion Baptist Church. The school was named after its distinguished first supervising principal, Israel Charles Norcom. Principal William E. Riddick and eight teachers served beside Mr. Norcom.
A second I. C. Norcom High School was built in 1937 at South and Chestnut streets. The building later became Riddick-Weaver. The first two floors were George Peabody Elementary School, while the third floor was reserved for the high school. According to Rachel Norcom Smith, granddaughter of Israel Charles in an interview with Sydney Trent for The Virginian Pilots’ Currents, February 15, 1987, “I. C. Norcom was first-class as far as upkeep.”
In February, 1953 a $3,016,834 structure on 22 acres at 2700 Turnpike Road opened. During 24 years (1942 – 1966) as principal, Mr. William E. Waters did not merely copy existing educational models, but rather tailored the school’s operations to meet the special needs of its students. Mr. Waters was very proud of the school, claiming that it was the best in the South. The month after his death, Mr. Waters was awarded the Liberty Bell Award for community Service from the Portsmouth-Norfolk County Bar Association. The citation read:
In an era when the concept of civil disobedience was growing by leaps and bounds, Mr. Waters instilled in his students the idea that civic responsibility must accompany civil rights.
In 1966 Albert T. Edwards succeeded Mr. Waters as the principal of I. C. Norcom which by that time had grown to an enrollment of 1,920 students housed in a facility built to accommodate 1,400 students. Upon Mr. Edwards’ retirement, six principals have succeeded him: Mr. E. Blair, Mr. L. Wallace, Mr. V. Randall, Dr. DeWayne Jeter, Mr. Walter Taylor, Ms. Lynn Briley, Dr. Rosalynn Sanderlin and currently Ms. Shameka Pollard.
The current I.C. Norcom edifice at 1801 London Boulevard opened in September, 1997. The Class of 1998 was the first graduating class at the new location. However, the Class of 2002 was the first graduating class that attended four years at the new location.
Israel Charles Norcom–Our Namesake
The Chestnut Street School was renamed I. C. Norcom in 1953 in honor of its first supervising principal, Israel Charles Norcom. Physically, he stood tall (6’1” or 6’2”) and erect. The multi-faceted Mr. Norcom was described as a pioneer educator, leader of his people, churchman, civic leader, businessman, fraternalist, guidance counselor, and an outstanding citizen. A newspaper article from the 1950s said of the man:
This educator was many-sided yet in all endeavors he was the cultured, dignified gentleman without frigid affectation or repellant presumptuousness. Both races recognized his genius.
Israel Charles Norcom, was born in Edenton, North Carolina on September 21, 1856, one of John and Lucy Norcom’s ten children. He attended school in North Carolina. The Virginian Pilot has said Mr. Norcom attended Yale preparatory school in Hartford, Connecticut. He studied at Yale and Harvard Universities. The Journal and Guide for November 2, 1957 stated that he graduated from Andover, Massachusetts Preparatory School, took a business course at Howard University, and attended summer school at Hampton Institute and the University of Virginia.
After teaching for two years in Bedford County, Virginia, Israel Norcom became both teacher and principal at the Chestnut Street School (built 1878), the precursor of I. C. Norcom High School. He served there from 1883 until 1916, the year of his death.
The Norcom home was at 206 N. Green Street, Portsmouth.
Mr. Norcom was also involved in religious and community activities. He was secretary of the trustee board at the Emanuel AME Church and the Tidewater Building and Loan Association. Mr. Norcom was a founder of the Southern Aid Society. He was involved with the Negro Organization Society and the Tidewater Teachers Association. Mr. Norcom was also a Mason and a member of Norfolk’s Acme Club.
It is said that Mr. Norcom guided with intelligence and wisdom, led with firmness, dignity and understanding, aimed high, and visualized expanding educational facilities for his race in Portsmouth. Mr. Norcom’s contributions to Portsmouth’s educational heritage are acknowledged by all facets of the community. Norcom also inspired seven of his descendents to follow him into the field of education. He has been honored as part of the Portsmouth Heritage Series bookmarks.
Mr. Norcom’s grandson, James Jr., a third generation educator, has remarked that I. C. Norcom would have been “amazed” by the the school system today. “There are some leniencies he would frown upon.” But he would be pleased to see the school integrated.
The Alumni Association– In the Beginning
Helen E. Edge, a 1957 graduate of I. C. Norcom High School, had a unique vision to form an organization that would promote and provide a positive impact on the students at I. C. Norcom High School. In the fall of 1982 a meeting was held at her home with the following classmates: Phyllis Moody Angus, Willard Bowser, Harriet Brown, Freda Cromwell, Wendell Christian, William Crocker, and S. Douglas Hall. After several informal discussions, the group decided to establish an alumni association. The response was overwhelming. Meetings were held at the former I.C. Norcom High School on Turnpike Road. Those members who joined the first year were considered charter members.