Joseph Thomas Newsome was born in Sussex County on June 2, 1869. The son of formerly enslaved parents, Newsome graduated from Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (later Virginia State University) in 1894 and earned a law degree from Howard University School of Law. "Lawyer Newsome," as he was known in Newport News, was involved with several high-profile criminal cases in eastern Virginia, and was one of two African American attorneys who made a successful appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeals (later the Supreme Court of Virginia) in 1931 in Davis v. Allen in which black residents of Hampton were routinely prevented from registering to vote.
Politically active, Newsome opposed the "Lily-White" direction of the Republican Party, and in 1921 he ran for attorney general on a "Lily Black" Virginia Republican ticket. Newsome helped found and lead the Warwick County Colored Voters League, an organization that lobbied for schools, community improvement, and voter registration. He also helped secure the first high school for African American residents of Newport News. Newsome remained active in public affairs and at the time of his death was serving as president of the Old Dominion Bar Association, a black counterpart to the Virginia State Bar Association.
Newsome edited the Newport News Star from late in the 1920s to late in the 1930s until its purchase by the Norfolk Journal and Guide. Very active in community churches, he also opened his home as a community center, even hosting Booker T. Washington on occasion. Newsome died on March 9, 1942. The Newsome house was renovated late in the 1980s and converted into a community center and a museum for black history, the Newsome House Museum and Cultural Center.