PORTSMOUTH, Virginia — PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WTKR) – Inside a storage unit in Portsmouth, Virginia, Emanuel Yancey has a story to tell.
“When I saw this, I said, this is powerful,” Yancey said pointing to a newspaper article dating back to the 1940s. “I couldn’t find her anywhere."
The story of a likely trail-blazing Black woman. Mrs. E.K. Wilson was a business owner in 1949. She ran her barber shop for nearly five decades in an industry dominated by men.
“She was not only a barber but a master barber,” said Yancey.
Yancey said Wilson is a big part of history.
“For us to just be business owners is significant, but then when you have a woman business owner in the 40s and then in an all-male occupation, I think that is very significant to history,” he said.
During a bidding war, Yancey won the storage unit for a little less than $500.
A barber’s chair from Wilson is one of the first things he noticed. Then he dug a little deeper and made an invaluable discovery.
Yancey found a program for a "Women’s Day" event. Mrs. Martin Luther King Jr. was the guest speaker.
“This program here is in beautiful condition,” Yancey said. “This was exciting. This was really exciting to me because not only was Mrs. E.K. Wilson important but the people she knew and visiting places the same as Mrs. King.”
Yancey has found some other unknown treasures including a picture of Dr. King himself, piles of vintage jewelry and even sports memorabilia.
“Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, Buster Douglas,” Yancey said pointing to autographed boxing gloves.
Yancey plans on selling most of his historical finds and using the money to keep paying it forward through his nonprofit Emanuel’s HOPE Foundation.
“I want to shine a light on the needs of our seniors in our community,” he said.
What started as gesture to help his grandmother as a boy, Yancey now gives his time to help other seniors who are financially or physically unable to keep up with their lawns.
“It’s been difficult for a lot of our seniors and they’re an underserved community but a growing community, so my heart goes out to them,” Yancey said. “I want to give them that feeling that my grandma had when she’d look at her lawn and say, wow this is beautiful.”
As far as some of the nostalgia in Yancey’s storage unit, he’s still figuring out what to sell. As for how much it might all be worth.
“I would say it’s priceless,” he said. “It’s hard to put value on it.”