Virginia family upset over razing of historic home

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) – Straw covers the ground of what used to the 1899-built homestead of a Newport News family with historic connections to when Africans first arrived in America in the 1600s.

A wrecking ball took down the dilapidated home in late July.

The Tuckers are related to William Tucker, reportedly the first African born in America in 1624, in Jamestown. They have formed the 1624 William Tucker Society, and a cemetery in Hampton reportedly contains the remains of the original Tucker.

Family members say they are unhappy with the city for demolishing the historic home, which they had planned to turn into a museum.

“We wanted it to be similar to the Newsome House (museum),” said Bill Harper, related through marriage to the Tuckers.

Harper said they were working on getting the house designated as a state and national historic landmark. “This was going to be the beginning of a new renaissance.”

The home was razed about 18 months after the city first notified the family that they had to fix the house or have it be demolished, city records show.

“You would think they would have held back on the demolition,” said Brenda Tucker, who grew up in Newport News but now lives in Baltimore.

Tucker said she is the granddaughter of the late William and Mary Tucker, owners of the 1899 home, and a direct descendant of the Tucker born in 1624.

Brenda Tucker wrote several letters to the city, noting the historic value of the home, requesting more time to figure out the cost of restoring the building and moving forward with the museum plans.

Tucker and Harper said they were told verbally by Harold Roach, the city’s codes compliance director, that they had until September to repair the home. So they were surprised to see the house was demolished.

But Roach said he never told the family that they had an extension, and there’s no record at City Hall indicating that the city granted an extension to the family, according to an examination of the file by the Daily Press.

Roach said the house needed to be taken down so that it wouldn’t be a safety hazard to neighbors.

“They didn’t step up and do what they needed to do to make the property sound,” Roach said.

Harper said it was boarded up and the property was landscaped.

“We did everything the city asked us to do,” Harper said.

David Harlow, senior codes compliance inspector for Newport News, said the home was in “terrible” shape and it would have been “cost prohibitive” to attempt to rebuild. He said that the back half of the house was in danger of collapsing.

Tavain Tucker, a Norfolk architect who is also a descendant of William Tucker, said the home was “save-able.”

Mayor McKinley Price said up until recently, he hadn’t heard about the historic value of the home. While the house is gone now, Price said maybe the city could work with the family to erect an historic marker.

Brenda Tucker, who often visited her grandparents at the house, said that they still have plans for the property. Perhaps a replica could be built, she said, and it still could become a museum. Next door to the razed home was the Tucker family convenience store, also a landmark in the Southeast Community, she said.

She said much of the history of the original William Tucker is unknown, but his parents, Anthony and Isabella, were taken from Angola, perhaps as slaves or indentured servants onto a Spanish ship. She said they may have been intercepted by English pirates before ending up in Jamestown.

Whether William Tucker was a free black man, an indentured servant or a slave is also a point of debate.

Brenda Tucker, who has researched family history, said she believes he was an indentured servant, but from a practical standpoint it may have been not much different than being a slave.

Katrina Carter, also a Tucker descendant, said she has done some research and believes that the Tuckers could have been Spanish Moors, who were Muslim Africans who ruled Spain in the Middle Ages.

Emmanuel Sheafe, a family friend, said something should be done so that people can remember and learn about the history.

“This is not an African-American tragedy,” Sheafe said, referring to the house being razed. “This is an American tragedy. This is part of the story of America.”


Information from: Daily Press,

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