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News | Feb. 29, 2016

DLA celebrates Black History Month at DSCR by honoring local hallowed grounds

By Amy T. Clement DLA Aviation Public Affairs

Defense Logistics Agency employees on Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia, celebrated Black History Month with an observance held Feb. 25. The program, which was held in the Lott’s Conference center, included two documentaries, displays of artifacts, photos and other historical documents, a keynote speaker and songs performed by the Bellwood Choir – all reflecting on this year’s African American History theme “Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories.”

DLA Aviation’s Strategic Acquisition Programs Directorate and Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Office’s Special Emphasis Program sponsored the event.

The EEOD Special Emphasis Program’s monthly observances encourage and build a culture of diversity and inclusion within the DLA Aviation workforce. After each monthly event, such as Black History Month, the EEOD Office gauges program impacts through surveys and participant feedback.

The event began with a showing of the film from DSCR’s African American Cemetery Reinterment Ceremony which took place on the center Oct. 21, 1999.  The video, entitled “DSCR Reinterment Ceremony,” shows the interment of the remains of six African-Americans discovered during ground clearing in 1998 for the construction of the child development center on post.

Archeological studies estimate the remains, buried between 1840 – 1920, could be remains of African-American slaves who lived on the property when it was a privately owned plantation during the 1700s and 1800s.  The remains were reinterred close to where they were found during the 1999 ceremony. Graveyards of both property owners and their families, African-Americans believed to be slaves and Civil War soldiers remain on center and are a part of the history of this area.

After the film, guest speaker Richard Stewart, Pocahontas Island resident historian, orator, and owner of the Pocahontas Island Black History Museum, gave a historical perspective of the lives of blacks (both free and enslaved)  on Pocahontas Island, which is located across the Appomattox River from historic Petersburg, less than 15 miles from DSCR.

Pocahontas Island, one of the oldest black communities in the United States, was a waterfront community thriving with fishermen, boatsmen and other tradesmen who shipped tobacco, cotton and other products to ports around the world.

According to Stewart, Pocahontas Island was formed at the same time the lines were being drawn to divide Petersburg and Chesterfield County in 1749.  The island flourished for many, only declining after locomotives and railroads were built connecting Petersburg to Richmond and beyond.

Stewart recounted how blacks and poor whites lived together during the times of slavery, and how Pocahontas Island thrived as a waterfront community.  “Pocahontas Island was a black and white community long before the Civil War,” he said.

Stewart said the island was also a major part of the Underground Railroad in Virginia, as it made it easier to move slaves to freedom through the port along the waterways up to Norfolk, then upwards on the East Coast.

Steward shared the fact that there were both white and black slaves during those times and provided information through historical documents showing blacks and whites sold as slaves in Petersburg and Richmond.  He also spoke about the history behind blacks –both slaves and free - serving in the confederacy during the Civil War, sharing a book about the memoirs of blacks serving in the Civil War in a display that participants were allowed to view and read. 

Stewart then shared his story about his long career at DSCR (the center known as Defense General Supply Center at that time), which began in 1966, after his service in the United States Army.

“I started here in 1966 at the bottom, but I ended up at the top,” said Stewart as he shared how on his first day, he reported to Building 60 - known back then as “the bottoms.” He said to him, the installation looked more like a plantation as he began his career as a laborer.   

Stewart said it took him 20 years to go from the “bottom to the top” retiring as a quality assurance specialist, general schedule (GS)-11 after 38 years of service.  He also said that he had worked beside and been helped during his career by both blacks and whites, stating they were all a team on center.

After his presentation, a video was shown documenting the history of Pocahontas Island and other historical events in the Petersburg, Chesterfield County and Richmond areas, along with the struggles and triumphs of African-Americans who inhabited the area throughout history. 

The event closed with a performance by the Bellwood Choir, who also opened the event, and ended with an invitation for event-goers to view the historical displays and speak with Stewart.