He made headlines when he became the first African-American to be approved to argue cases before Virginia’s Supreme Court of Appeals (later Supreme Court of Virginia). In 1913, he won a case before the Court. Davis v Allen, his case, challenged Hampton authorities’ deliberate attempt to prevent Black voters from exercising their voting rights.
According to theclio.com, Joseph Thomas Newsome was known for the high-profile criminal cases he pursued in Virginia. His father was an African enslaved. He grew up in Sussex County and went on to become a powerful civil rights activist, lawyer, and journalist. In 1894, he enrolled at the Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute. He continued his studies at Howard University Law School, where he earned his law degree.
Newsome devoted a significant portion of his life to combating racial segregation and discrimination, as well as the dehumanizing treatment of people of African descent. According to the Library of Virginia, one of the ways he demonstrated against the status quo was his campaign against the Republican Party’s “Lily-White” direction in 1921. On the back of a “Lily Black” Virginia Republican ticket, he ran for Attorney General.
Many African Americans were inspired by his advocacy and went into the legal profession. He was a driving force behind the formation of the Warwick County Coloured Voters League, an organization that advocated for community improvement, school construction, and voter registration.
His efforts resulted in the construction of Newport News’ first high school for African Americans. Newsome also served as president of the Old Dominion Bar Association, a branch of the Virginia State Bar. His involvement in the affairs of his community was non-existent.
Aside from his legal practice, he wrote for the Newport News Star from the late 1920s until it was sold to the Norfolk Journal and Guide.
He later converted his home into a community center and hosted civil rights activist Booker T. Washington. When Newsome died, the community held a special memorial service to honor his contributions to the advancement of the African-American cause. He devoted four decades of his life to it.
Thousands of friends and well-wishers flocked to his funeral in Newport News. His funeral rites were attended by approximately three thousand people. In his memory, it was agreed that the local courthouse would be closed to the public.
His house was renovated extensively in the late 1980s and is now a community center and a museum of black history. The house had previously been occupied by his only grandchild, who sold it to the Newsome House Foundation, Inc.
After the facility sat vacant for ten years, a group formed to raise funds to renovate it until the city of Newport News made a decision. On February 17, 1991, the residence was designated as a museum and cultural center.