Israel Charles Norcom "A Guiding Light" (1856-1916)
"He was always the epitome toward which we aimed. He was a source of inspiration for those who knew him."
-- James Norcom, I. C. Norcom's grandson
The Chestnut Street School was renamed I. C. Norcom in 1953 in honor of its first supervising principal, Israel Charles Norcom. Physically, he stood tall (6-feet-1 or 6-feet-2)and erect. The multi-faceted Mr. Norcom was described as a pioneer educator, leader of his people, churchman, civic leader, businessman, fraternalist, guidance counselor, and an outstanding citizen. A newspaper article from the 1950s said of the man:
- This educator was many-sided yet in all endeavors he was the cultured, dignified gentleman without frigid affectation or repellant presumptiousness. Both races recognized his genius.
Israel Charles Norcom, was born in Edenton, North Carolina on September 21st, 1856, one of John and Lucy Norcom's ten children. He attended school in North Carolina. The Virginian Pilot has said Mr. Norcom attended Yale preparatory school in Hartford, Connecticut. He studied at Yale and Harvard Universities. The Journal and Guide for November 2, 1957 stated that he graduated from Andover, Massachusetts Prepatory school, took a business course at Howard University, and attended summer school at Hampton Institute and the University of Virginia.
After teaching for two years in Bedford County, Virginia, Israel Norcom became both teacher and principal at the Chestnut Street School (built 1878), the precursor of I. C. Norcom High School. He served there from 1883 until 1916, the year of his death.
The Norcom home was at 206 N. Green Street, Portsmouth.
Besides his dedication to education, Mr. Norcom was involved with the Emanuel AME Church, of which he was secretary of the trustee board. He was a founder of the Southern Aid Society. He was secretary of the Tidewater Building and Loan Association, involved with the Negro Organization Society and the Tidewater Teachers Association as well as being a Mason, and a member of Norfolk's Acme Club.
It is said that Mr. Norcom guided with intelligence and wisdom, led with firmness, dignity and understanding, aimed high, and visualized expanding educational facilities for his race in Portsmouth. Mr. Norcom's contributions to Portsmouth's educational heritage are acknowledged by all facets of the community. Norcom also inspired seven of his descendents to follow him into the field of education. He has been honored as part of the Portsmouth Heritage Series bookmarks.
Mr. Norcom's grandson, James Jr., a third generation educator, has remarked that I.C. Norcom would have been "amazed" by the the school system today. "There are some leniencies he would frown upon" but he would be pleased to see the school integrated.