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Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail
Site #23
Rockingham House
401 State Street

Rockingham Hotel In 1948 New Hampshire resident Louis DeRochemont, famous for his March of Time newsreels, made a controversial film in the Seacoast area, Lost Boundaries. It was loosely based on the biography of black physician Albert C. Johnston. The film's protagonist is a young light-skinned doctor who accepts a temporary position in a small New Hampshire town without revealing his racial heritage, with unsettling results for family and villages alike. The plot's complexities were paralleled by problems in filming arising from contemporary local racism. DeRochemont arranged to have his headquarters at the Rockingham Hotel. Proprietor James Barker Smith accepted the business, then balked at having black people attend meetings here. Under threat of losing all DeRochemont's business, he changed his policy; one local barrier was overcome. To his credit, Smith later welcomed the NAACP for its local and regional meetings here.

In 1958 Thomas Cobbs, owner of an electrical repair shop on Deer Street, helped mobilize local black and white citizens to found a chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). By the early 1960s they had moved their meetings from the People's Baptist Church to the more neutral public room at the Rockingham Hotel. NAACP members began a series of small scale but effective public actions to convince local hotels, barber shops and restaurants to comply with new federal public accommodation laws. Through bold, brave, dignified and united actions of dozens of ordinary black and white people with extraordinary convictions, local institutions, businesses, employers, landlords and realtors were pressured to comply with the new laws.

Now you can buy the whole BLACK HERITAGE GUIDE

See Also: The Library Restaurant

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