How this man uses a museum on Pocahontas Island to tell the story of his ancestors

PETERSBURG, Va. -- The year 2019 marks 400 years since the first enslaved people from Africa came to Virginia. So, it should come as no surprise that the Commonwealth is home to one of the oldest black communities in America.

That community is just outside of Petersburg. A descendant of slavery has dedicated his life to tell the story of his ancestors and the people who lived along the Appomattox River.

"I've always wanted to do something for my people. Cause we have such a rich history," said Richard Stewart.

The retired federal worker has a love for history. So much so, back in 2003, he opened a black history museum on one of the properties he owns on Pocahontas Island. He also gives tours about surrounding homes.

"See this is one of the underground railroad houses here. When we couldn't hide them above the ground. We took them over here and hid them underneath,” as he explained an area where slaves used to hide before attempting to the flee North.

Inside his home, you'll find so many pictures, more than you can soak up and artifacts.

"These are actually slave shackles here. That slaves on the Appomattox River wore,” he said holding the shackles.

Items hundreds of years old, worth thousands of dollars, that this preservationist was able to buy, collect and even gifted in six months.

"White friends, black friends, and different people have helped me to make sure I got these things. Unusual things," said Stewart.

Walking through some of the rooms and listening to an orator about Pocahontas Island, and the part it played during segregation is informative, insightful, and painful.

"From 1888 to 1968, 4,743 people were lynched. And some of them were white," he said. But Stewart, whose family date back to 1634, says you can't ignore it.

"It is part of our history. I got things in here I would not go out into the public. Displaying the Ku Klux Klan uniform, but I can have it here and tell a story," he explained.

Stewart continues to collect items whenever possible and has put his life savings into keeping what he considers a very sacred place alive. But this is about more than money.

"I can't take my money with me. I'm just happy to do it because the spirit of yesterday speaks to me," he added.

Stewart also keeps his museum operational through donations at the door prior to a tour. If you would like more information about the Pocahontas Island Black History Museum, click here.

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