Anthony Kinzer has worked for years to preserve the memories of those whose lives were shaped by the historic Block District.
The West Virginia Center for African-American Art and Culture, headed by Kinzer, and the Charleston West Virginia Blues Society is hosting an event Saturday to celebrate the dedication of John Norman Street.
Kinzer petitioned to the city that two blocks of Lewis Street be renamed to John Norman Street late last year. City Council approved the petition in January.
The event runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the corner of John Norman and Shrewsbury streets. It will feature live music from local musician Marshall Petty, who Kinzer said will perform an original song about the Block District’s history.
Joe Geiger, director of archives and history for the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, will speak at the event about the Norman family’s impact on Charleston, as well as the extensive collection on display at the Culture Center, which includes photographs, licenses and other documents the family donated to the center.
Dem 2 Brothers will also have a food truck at the event.
The street is named for John Norman Sr., the first licensed African-American architect in West Virginia, and his son, John Norman Jr., a renowned cardiovascular surgeon.
The Norman family has strong ties to the Block District, a 25-acre area bound by Washington Street East, Capitol Street, Smith Street and Sentz Court.
After moving to Charleston in 1919, Norman Sr. designed various buildings in the Block, such as additions to Garnet High School and the Ferguson Hotel.
His wife, Ruth, was a teacher at Garnet High School.
Norman Jr. graduated from Garnet as valedictorian in 1946 and went on to graduate from Harvard Medical School 1954.
“Garnet, which was a segregated school, did not lack individuals who had the intestinal fortitude to be accomplished. They were taught by tremendous teachers, and most of them have accomplished quite a bit,” Kinzer said.
He said the Block represents those who “made the best out of life no matter what the circumstances were.”
Many of those who serve on the Center for African-American Art and Culture’s board of directors attended Garnet themselves before it closed in 1956, Kinzer said.
Now, those folks are in their 70s and 80s.
“I rely on them to give me the information I’m putting out there. They have laid the foundation for what’s going on now,” he said.
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