Business / Campus Life / Local

Rosa Alexander is a local Black History icon

by Omar Ross

Rosa M. Alexander was a prominent person in the Norfolk community. She was the first local woman to own a janitorial service and it became one of Virginia’s largest black-owned businesses. The all-female dorm on Norfolk State University’s campus is named after her.

Alexander started her business in the 1970s and, before opening her business, she worked as an electronics mechanic trainee, restaurant manager, and an office cleaner at night. Her business started from her savings and helped get her two buffers, six buckets, and one employee. The first two contracts she obtained were a doctor’s office and a day care center, which made her $400 a month, but she still kept her day jobs.

Soon after obtaining her first contracts, she got a $49,000 contract with the Norfolk Naval Base and a $1.9 million job with the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

Her business grew and she hired many workers who were able to get off welfare and provide a good life for their families. She was also a philanthropist who gave back to her community. She sponsored scholarships for athletic teams and band at Norfolk State and bought books for the library.

She told the Virginian-Pilot that her reasons behind helping others was “to instill in my employees that I am no better than they are and that there is nothing wrong with hard work and helping others.”

Her work never stopped. She provided Thanksgiving dinner to her tenants in the Park Place Apartments she owned, fund raised for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Norfolk, and donated land for a congregation to build a church.

Norfolk State opened The Rosa B. Alexander women’s hall in 1983. The hall is named in remembrance of her work and a portrait of her hangs in the lobby of the dorm.