PETERSURG, Va. (WRIC) — The Black History Museum in Petersburg has received its largest donation ever, thanks to a group of local children who raised $3,500.
Pocahontas Island, home to the museum, is known as one of the oldest Black communities in the United States. After serving decades in the military, Robert Stewart told 8News his life is now dedicated to continuing the work his ancestors started.
“This is really a glance into our past,” Stewart said. “That’s what this museum is all about.”
He is out working on the island every day to keep the rich history alive. Stewart, the owner of the museum, was gifted a check from a group of students who wanted to give back to a good cause.
Outside of the museum, he has been deemed the Honorary Mayor of Pocahontas Island and owns acres of land where the underground railroad operated and where slaves escaped to. He inherited a good chunk of the land, but opened the museum in 2003. Since then he’s collected slave shackles, KKK uniforms, Freedom Papers, countless photographs, vintage dolls, maps and hundreds more artifacts.
“This is my full-time job,” said Stewart. “I look at it as a rite of passage. My ancestors and spirits of yesterday give me the strength to carry on.”
Stewart is going strong at 77-years-old. He does all the maintenance, repairs, finances and guided walking tours alone– and has been for the last eighteen years. The fact that Stewart is a solo act and can maintain everything at his age is something that shocked children at Cultural Roots Homeschool Cooperative when they visited in 2019.
“It’s like crazy how he runs it all by his self,” Jameelah Tucker, a student, told 8News.
Cultural Roots Homeschool Cooperative centers its educational programming around the history and culture of Black and Brown communities.
After visiting the land and museum nearly two years ago, the children wanted to help. They started a COVID-19 friendly fundraiser earlier this year. Jordan Wright, one of the children involved, explained their idea.
“We created a video of the museum and put in online and asked people to donate to the museum,” Wright told 8News.
The kids worked with Film Instructor and VCU Adjunct Professor Ariana Hamidi to create the documentary, which highlighted Stewart’s life and why his work is important.
“We wanted to use film for advocacy,” Hamidi said. “The students planned out their interview and I taught them sound recording and they practiced production skills. They really learned a lot.”
The online fundraiser was only open for one month and in that time, the kids raised $3,500 for Stewart and presented him with the surprise check on Monday afternoon.
“I was just so excited to give him the check”, said Jameelah. “I felt really like I was supporting Black culture.”
Stewart was surrounded by children who wanted to support his mission in the middle of a pandemic, telling 8News he is so touched and despite the lack of donations he’s received over the years, the work will continue and the large check will help keep history alive.
“I appreciate those kids and they show me love,” Stewart said. “That was our Fourth of July when they brought that money in here. This was our Emancipation Day.”
A majority of the time, Stewart comes out of pocket for upkeep and says things get expensive, however he plans to use the donation for utilities and restore a roof of one of the underground homes.
If you’d like to book a tour call or help with the cause, call 804-426-5306 or click here.