NewsPolk County


Bartow African American Heritage Museum looks to community to help with expansion

Bartow African American Heritage Museum Larissa Scott WFTS5.png
Bartow African American Heritage Museum Larissa Scott WFTS2.png
Posted at 6:27 AM, Feb 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-11 06:27:58-05

BARTOW, Fla. — Bartow has been home to Polk County’s African American Heritage Museum for more than 20 years.

“Moving from here to there, on a shoestring budget so that means it took some grace in God to make this work,” said Harvey Lester, President of the Luster All Pastoral Care & Cultural Center, Inc.

It’s now sitting downtown on Summerlin Street.

“Hopefully this is home for us,” said Charles Luster, museum founder, director, and curator.

The museum was started by two brothers, Charles Luster and Harvey Lester.

Bartow African American Heritage Museum Larissa Scott WFTS.png

“It all started with my father telling us we have to give back to the community,” said Luster.

Growing up in Bartow, these two have seen many changes.

“We went to a segregated school. My class was just before the last class integrated,” said Lester.

He is a Vietnam Veteran who came back to his community after his service to give back in another way.

“All that training I got in the military, I brought it back home,” said Lester.

They want to teach people about the importance of African American History.

“How we struggled, and where we came from and how we got to where we are right now," said Lester.

Bartow African American Heritage Museum Larissa Scott WFTS3.png

“In the building we start with Africa. And then it’s like a book you start turning the pages and then you go from African culture then you go to slavery plantation, civil rights, and so on,” said Luster.

The brothers’ goal has been to create a place where people of all races can learn about African American history and culture and how we’re all connected.

“My most important thing is we want people to realize where they came from and what changes have been made. Happiness is change. And if they can see where they came from, they’ll know where they’re going," said Luster.

Bartow African American Heritage Museum Larissa Scott WFTS4.png

“The key to it is that you need to know your history before you can move forward. And history is not there to hold you back. History is there to propel you to go forward and make life better. That’s what we try to do is to make life better," said Lester.

The museum is full of information from all time periods and subjects, including Black soldiers and Black inventors.

“We have over 500 and something books of Black history from A-Z.”

Admission to the museum is free. They accept donations just to keep it running.

They hope to continue moving forward, with dreams of expanding to keep serving the community.

“That’s the most important thing is to expand because we’ve got so many things to offer our people concerning Black history… My idea of it is a small Smithsonian in Bartow,” said Luster.

He said they need financial contributions to keep the doors open and grow.

Luster African American Heritage Museum

P.O. Box 1203

Bartow, FL