Hezekiah D. Stewart (1942–2023)
The Reverend Hezekiah D. Stewart founded the Watershed Human and Community Development Agency in Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1978. This has been called the first “social hospital” of Arkansas and grew out of Stewart’s work with Mount Nebo African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Hezekiah David Stewart was born on October 14, 1942, in North Charleston, South Carolina, to Hezekiah D. Stewart Sr. and Edna Abraham Stewart; he had four siblings. By the 1950 census, he was living in the First St. James Goose Creek neighborhood in Charleston with his grandfather, Julius Abraham, as well as his mother and several close family members.
Stewart graduated from Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina; while there, he founded the Good Samaritans. Stewart subsequently earned a Master of Divinity degree from the Interdenominational Theological Center’s Turner Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia, and was assigned to Mount Nebo African Methodist Episcopal Church on Frazier Pike in College Station (Pulaski County) in the fall of 1976.
Upon his arrival, the church membership totaled less than one hundred. By 1994, the membership had tripled under his leadership. That same year, HBO released a documentary, Gang War: Bangin’ in Little Rock, about gang violence in the city. The closing of the film includes images of mothers of gang victims gathered in Mount Nebo AME Church, lighting candles with Rev. Stewart, who asks young gang members to engineer a truce while planting a white flag symbolic of a truce outside of the church.
Referenced by some as the “first social hospital” in Arkansas, the Watershed organization began as an outreach ministry started at Mount Nebo. Its stated task was to feed, educate, and financially assist community members. By 1983, the need for more space led them to acquire the former Gillam Elementary School on Springer Boulevard as their headquarters for operations.
The school had opened in 1963 and was named for Isaac Gillam Jr. who graduated from Little Rock schools, studied at Howard University, Yale University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Cincinnati. He would serve as principal of Gibbs High School for over fifty years. Springer Boulevard is named for a local family who served in the business, education, and medical community for many decades.
Stewart married Diane Johnson on October 17, 1992; they had one daughter.
Stewart connected with owners of small and large businesses around the state annually to increase the distribution of goods and services provided by the Watershed. Services were distributed every month. Through times of economic struggle, the Watershed operated with emotional and mental sensitivity to help those who needed it most. Thanksgiving and Christmas efforts drew hundreds of volunteers to help the Watershed fulfill its mission of service to others.
Stewart’s arrival in the historic community known as College Station positioned him to complement the service of Annie Mae Bankhead, a local community leader who established the Progressive League of College Station. She served on the War on Poverty Advisory Committee under President Lyndon B. Johnson before helping to establish a credit union, health clinic, and YMCA in the community.
In 1997, a tornado tore a path through the community, killing five people and damaging more than seventy-five homes. President Bill Clinton toured the area and spoke with many of the residents. Rev. Stewart is one of the leaders he met.
Stewart left Mount Nebo in 2001 to serve at Moody Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church. He retired in 2016. Stewart received numerous awards and accolades throughout his career. For example, the City of Little Rock proclaimed October 14, 2021, as Rev. Hezekiah David Stewart Day in honor of his seventy-ninth birthday.
Stewart died on September 20, 2023.
For additional information:
McFadin, Daniel. “LR’s Watershed’s Founder Dies at 80.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 22, 2023, pp. 1B, 5B. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2023/sep/22/the-rev-hezekiah-stewart-jr-founder-of-the/ (accessed November 21, 2023).
Obituary of Reverend Hezekiah D. Stewart Jr. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 22, 2023, p. 4B. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/obituaries/2023/sep/22/hezekiah-stewart-2023-09-22/ (accessed November 21, 2023).
CALS Butler Center for Arkansas Studies
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