NORFOLK, VA – The City of Norfolk dedicated a new historical marker honoring Evelyn T. Butts located at 645 Church St. on Monday, Aug. 23. Several community and civic organizations joined members of Norfolk City Council in a short program honoring Ms. Butts at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Plaza. Immediately following the program, the marker was unveiled.
Ms. Evelyn Butts was born in Norfolk in 1924. She helped eliminate the poll tax from state and local elections and registered thousands to vote. Ms. Butts challenged the poll tax in court, with the case going all the way to Supreme Court in 1966, which succeeded in overturning the poll tax. In 1995, the City of Norfolk renamed Elm St. to Evelyn T. Butts Avenue – no other monuments or markers honoring her in Norfolk existed prior to the street’s renaming.
“Mrs. Butts would be proud that a historical sign was installed here in her honor. She would have been even prouder to know that she is still inspiring fellow citizens to vote and to help ensure the voting rights of other people,” said Norfolk Mayor Kenneth C. Alexander, Ph.D. “That would be our greatest tribute to the life, leadership, and legacy of Norfolk’s own Evelyn Thomas Butts.”
In June 2020, Governor Northam launched an annual Black History Month Historical Marker Contest in partnership with the Department of Historical Resources and the Virginia State Highway Marker programs. The contest invites students to propose prominent African American Virginians for recognition through the installation of a state marker. In 2020, Ms. Evelyn Butts was among 20 selected entries.
The marker reads:
Evelyn Thomas Butts
Evelyn Butts, civil rights activist and community organizer, worked to secure voting rights for African Americans. In 1963 she initiated a federal lawsuit asserting that Virginia’s poll tax, which citizens had to pay before they could register to vote, violated the U.S. Constitution. The case, combined with a similar suit filed in Fairfax County, reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections (1966) that the poll tax requirement in state elections was unconstitutional. Butts conducted voter registration drives and helped establish Concerned Citizens of Norfolk, which resulted in the election of African Americans to public office.
Attached photo left to right: From Left to Right: Councilwoman Andria P. McClellan, Norfolk School Board Member Rodney Jordan, Rep. Bobby Scott, Charlene Butts Ligon, Dr. Kenneth Cooper Alexander, Dr. Colita Fairfax, Norfolk City Treasurer Daun Sessoms Hester, Councilwoman Danica Royster, Dr. Tommy Bogger, Gregory Gardner