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Dr. Virginia Newell still championing equality and education at age 101

Dr. Virginia K. Newell is a living legend and a champion of equality and education.

Dr. Virginia Newell still championing equality and education at age 101
February 07
00:15 2019

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Fredrick Douglas, George Washington Carver, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks have become synonymous with February and Black History Month. While it is important that we lift up the names and accomplishments of the greats everyone knows, it is equally and maybe even more important that we highlight the history-makers right here in our own community who paved the way for others.

And when making a list of Winston-Salem’s Black History Makers, your list isn’t valid if it doesn’t include champion of equality and education, Dr. Virginia K. Newell.

Originally a native of Davie County, Newell relocated to Winston-Salem with her family when she was a child. A graduate of Atkins High School, in 1977 Newell and Mayor Tempore Vivian Burke became the first black women elected to the board of alderman (now City Council).

Newell, who will turn 102 later this year, said her father always stressed the importance of voting. She said when they lived in Davie County, her father was one of the few blacks who were allowed to vote. Newell said her father taught her that politics can affect every phase of life, from education to job creation and housing.

Newell said she remembers going to the polls with her father, asking dozens of questions about the process and what it all meant.

“He was never elected to office, but my father was always involved in politics and when he would go vote, he would take all of the children in the neighborhood with him so they could ask questions and learn about voting,” Newell said.

During her 16-year tenure representing the city’s East Ward, Newell was known as an advocate for fair housing, economic justice, and racial equality. She is also credited with leading the effort to build the East Winston Shopping Center and founding the YMCA’s Best Choice Center.

Newell said when she served the citizens of East Winston, she made it her mission to speak out against things that were not for the betterment of people.

Last week Newell told The Chronicle that although she never got the opportunity, she always wanted to take her talents to Washington. She said she’s proud of what she accomplished during her time as alderman, but her dream was to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

She said, “… If I had started earlier, I think I would made it to Washington. I wouldn’t have been like Maxine Waters, but something like her. I would’ve been like a Harriet Tubman in Washington, a Sojourner Truth in Washington, they would’ve known I was there. I would’ve let them know what was happening to our people.”

Although she is most known for her contributions to the city of Winston-Salem, Newell’s true passion has always been education.

After college Newell returned to her alma mater, Atkins (now Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy), to teach math. Newell’s love for teaching also took her to Raleigh and Atlanta, before taking a position at Winston-Salem State University (WSSU). While at WSSU Newell worked her way through the ranks and became chair of the Department of Math and Computer Sciences. She is also credited with bringing the first computers to the historically black university (HBCU).

Just like voting, Newell said her parents instilled in her and her eight other siblings the importance of education at an early age. She said, “We were encouraged by our parents, in fact every night we had school at home.”

Newell continued and said learning a trade was also important when she was growing up. She said when she was a child, they were expected to go to school and learn a trade to support their families. At a place in time where young African-American men are being killed and incarcerated at an alarming rate, Newell believes that’s what our community needs today.

“Back in the olden times, kids learned a trade from their fathers. They wanted children to go to school and learn a trade. Today we have so many of young men in the streets and when they get killed it just hurts my heart.” She continued, “… because if they had a trade or something they would do it. If I were in the Congress, I would fight for training our people.

“… Our black kids are failing and I’m one to say it on the housetop, they are failing right here in Forsyth County and it is sad.”

At the young age of 101 Newell is still very active. She’s an avid reader, up to date on the upcoming presidential race, and the questionable actions of our current president. Newell is also an active member of the local chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and frequently attends local speaking engagements. When asked her secrets to living a long and prosperous life, Newell said, “It’s really simple: I’ve tried to do what my mother and father told me and what the good book says.

“… And I got this from my daddy, regardless of how high you go, always keep your feet on the ground. So I’ve tried to live by that.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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