Petersburg: A Rich (African) American History

We are not makers of history. We are made by history.

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

The current conversation about what history we teach in our schools depends on what history survives to be told.

Petersburg holds a rich, deep Black history. However, much of it is in jeopardy of being erased.

The physical places of our past hold a voice in the telling of our stories, and it is vital to preserve the spaces in which our ancestors lived, thrived, cared for one another, fought injustice, and even died. Much of The Avenue, a former safe-haven for the black community during segregation, has been bulldozed. One of the houses used in the Underground Railroad on Pocahontas Island was demolished. Unprotected by the City, Peabody High School and Giles B. Cooke Elementary have faced vandalism and destruction. The safe house used by Martin Luther King, Jr. is in disrepair.

Numerous individuals are fighting to preserve this collective history. And many more have their own stories to contribute to our cultural heritage. Richard Stewart has built a museum of Pocahontas Island. Julian Greene fights for the recognition of First Baptist Church, Harrison Street as one of the oldest, if not the oldest, black churches in America. Germaine Fauntleroy boycotted during the 1950s, hosted Martin Luther King, Jr. in her kitchen, served as teacher and principal at Peabody, and went on to serve as Petersburg’s first Black female Superintendent of Schools. Community elders are vessels of important lessons of our past and, thus, hold irreplaceable places in our future.

As debates rage on about what history to teach our children, it is important to have all of our histories preserved to pass on. An incomplete history is an incorrect history, and future generations should know the truth.

Pocahontas Island, est. 1752

First Baptist Church, est. 1756

Gillfield Baptist Church, est. 1788

Peabody High School, est. 1870

(Please click on photos for audio and for more information about each person.)

Congresswoman Jennifer McClellan

Mr. Richard Stewart

Mr. Julian Greene, Jr.

Dr. George W. C. Lyons, Jr.

Mrs. Linda Smith

Mrs. Germaine Fauntleroy

Mrs. Ida Thweatt

Mrs. Treska Wilson-Smith

Mr. Elwood Burrow

Mr. Wayne Crocker

Mrs. Elenora Edlow

Mr. T.J. Dingle

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