Multiple Regions-Arkansas African American Heritage Tour
Begin your tour of African American History and Heritage in the rich Delta lands of eastern Arkansas. Lush Helena on the banks of Old Man River has long been considered the cultural seat of the Delta, and the Delta Cultural Center located right downtown on Cherry Street tells the stories of the region through interpretive panels, photographs, and artifacts, and an exciting multi-media, searchable, computerized "scrapbook" of Delta memories. There is a heavy emphasis on the priceless blues music of the area; the newest addition to the Center is the "Delta Sounds" room, where the stories of legendary musicians with roots in the Arkansas Delta are told. The permanent exhibit, "A Heritage of Determination," follows the legacy of the Delta from the first Native Americans who occupied the region to the farm machinery that forced sharecroppers off the land. After a delicious local lunch, you can sit in on the nation's longest running blues radio program, "King Biscuit Time," as it is still broadcast live each weekday at the noon hour. Each October, the free-admission Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival long called the King Biscuit Blues Festival, draws thousands to the banks of the Mississippi River in Helena to hear live music, eat delicious Southern food, and celebrate the tradition of Delta blues. Back on Cherry Street, in the middle of the festivities on the river, is The Blues Corner, an extensive collection of records, CDs, tapes, books, and memorabilia. Also in Helena , the grand Centennial Baptist Church is the only known Arkansas example of a black church designed by a black architect. Your group can enjoy a choral concert here that is guaranteed to take their breath away. Dinner, overnight and breakfast in the Helena/West Helena area.
Perched on the edge of the Delta, the town of Brinkley was home during the 1930s to the great Louis Jordan, singer and saxophonist who toured with jazz artists like Ella Fitzgerald. Jordan came from a musical family indeed - his father majored in music at Arkansas Baptist College and was the bandleader of the Arkansas-based Rabbit Foot Minstrel. Louis Jordan and his "Tympany Five Band" recorded 18 songs that went to #1 on the charts. For good reason he was and is known as, "King of the Juke Boxes." Next stop: Pine Bluff for a glimpse of the Old South and to learn about the state's legacy of talent showcased in the Arkansas Entertainer's Hall of Fame. Honorees include Louis Jordan, Johnny Cash, Al Green, Levon Helm, Art Porter, Sr., and Jimmy Driftwood. Train lovers will enjoy the Arkansas Railroad Museum complete with a restored Engine 819, "the Queen of Steam," the last of its kind built in Pine Bluff. Don't miss the murals of Pine Bluff’s main attractions painted on building sides downtown, and if you time it right, you can delight in the offerings at the farmers market at the brand new Saracen Landing, right over the shores of the 500-acre Lake Saracen.They offer a glimpse into the past through the work of world-renowned artists. The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff began as the "Arkansas Branch Normal School," concentrating on mechanical and technical studies. It houses the permanent exhibits "Keepers of the Spirit: a tribute to the legacy of AM&N College," highlighting the tenure of a former chancellor, and "Persistence of the Spirit" which highlights the contributions and history of African-Americans in Arkansas. These gripping exhibits reveal how black Americans dealt with the world in which they found themselves and contributed to early Arkansas history. Lunch, dinner and overnight, Pine Bluff.
This morning as you leave Pine Bluff, follow the Arkansas River north to Scott, a plantation settlement just outside of the capitol city of Little Rock. The Plantation Agricultural Museum in Scott preserves the rich heritage of plantation life and cotton agriculture in southeast Arkansas. A rare cotton gin is one of many exhibits on display at the museum including "Ascent from Slavery: The Scott Winfield Bond Exhibit." A unique experience, the Plantation Agriculture Museum also houses educational exhibits on the transition of African Americans from slavery to free farmers.
It's just up the road to Little Rock, where you'll check into your hotel and begin exploring. The cultural center of Arkansas, it is here that the majority of African-American history and events in Arkansas have taken place and been commemorated. The Historic Arkansas Museum is recognized for its outstanding living history presentations of life in the 19th Century revolving around four of the earliest houses in Little Rock and their inhabitants. More than 40 black legislators served in the Old State House during Reconstruction, and it is believed that the first elected black municipal judge in the United States had his office in that building. Check out the Old State House museum for its numerous exhibits of Arkansas history. The Old State House also served as the first state capitol building of Arkansas, and later gained notoriety as the setting for President Bill Clinton's election night victory celebrations in 1992 and 1996. The largest archival in American Presidential history is displayed in the nation's twelfth Presidential Library, the Clinton Presidential Center and Park, located on the edge of the hopping revitalized River Market district. The Clinton Center includes the museum, archival collection, an authentic reproduction of the Oval Office and Cabinet Room, educational and research facilities, and Cafe 42, a casually eclectic restaurant, all overlooking the Arkansas River. You can arrange for a private evening tour and dinner in the Clinton Center, or choose one of the many fine restaurants in the River Market district. Overnight and breakfast your central Arkansas hotel.
Further suggested stops are noted here. Philander Smith College was founded in 1877 with the mission to educate former slaves. Over the last 125 years, the college has produced and continues to produce leaders on a local and national level. Taborian Hall, constructed in 1916, was considered the hub of the African-American business community in Little Rock and served as headquarters for the Arkansas Chapter of the Knights and Daughters of Tabor, a national fraternity. From 1929-1955, the segregated Dunbar Senior High School was considered the premier school for black Arkansans. Its liberal arts curriculum combined with a vocational track made it the only black secondary school accredited by the North Central Association for Secondary Schools and Colleges. Today, Dunbar still shines as one of the best Junior High Schools in central Arkansas. The memorabilia room contains items and artifacts from alumni during the segregated years.
While Dunbar served the educational needs of the black community in Little Rock, Little Rock Central High School catered only to whites – until, as you surely know, 1957. The integration of the school by the "Little Rock Nine" is noted as the symbolic end of racially segregated public schools in America. As Arkansas's most important landmark associated with the Civil Rights Movement, the LRCH Visitor's Center in a restored Mobil gas station across the street from the high school contains photographs from the 1957 crisis, and text and audio-visual presentations. Central High School was designated a National Historic Landmark Site, under the management of the National Park System, in order to preserve, manage, and maintain the most prominent national example of the repercussion of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court decision outlawing segregated public schools. The Daisy Bates House, a National Historic Landmark, was the de facto command post for the Central High School desegregation crisis in Little Rock, Arkansas. It was the first time a President used federal powers to uphold and implement a federal court decision regarding school desegregation. Mrs. Daisy Lee Gaston Bates, who, with her husband Lucius Christopher (L.C.) Bates, resided at this address during the Central High School desegregation crisis in 1957-1958. The house served as a haven for the nine African-American students who desegregated the school and a place to plan the best way to achieve their goals. The house is private, but you’ll want to drive by. A recently unveiled sculpture of the Little Rock Nine is the first commemoration of African American history to be erected on the grounds of a Southern state Capitol. Another can't miss while in Little Rock is EMOBA, Ernie's Museum of Black Arkansans. Located in a former church building, EMOBA is dedicated to the history of blacks in Arkansas, beginning in the 1840s.
From Little Rock, drive down to Hot Springs and venture into the once vibrant and bustling Webb neighborhood. Anchored by the 1870 Visitors Chapel AME, this significant neighborhood was known for its "Black Broadway," where black owned businesses thrived and black tourists were welcomed into the spas and bathhouses in an era when they were shunned by other resort towns. The lively nightlife drew tourists from across the nation into Hot Springs to take pleasure not only in the two black hotels/bathhouses, but also the entertainment and clubs featuring Ike and Tina Turner, Nat King Cole, and Louis Armstrong. During its heyday, the Webb neighborhood boasted stunning homes and a hospital with more than a dozen black doctors on staff. Today, the streets and structures have fallen into disrepair, but community members have formed an alliance to have the Webb neighborhood listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the first step toward revitalizing the area. Lunch, traditional bath and massage, dinner and overnight Hot Springs.
Continue south to the corner of the state from Hot Springs to Texarkana. Lunch then explore the life and gifts of Scott Joplin, "The Father of Ragtime Music" grew up in and attended the Orr School in Texarkana. While there, Mr. Joplin formulated many of his most successful ideas and compositions. Joplin became famous for "The Entertainer," written in 1902. His sophisticated piano compositions have only recently begun to be fully appreciated, and as a result, many revivals of his works have been staged and recorded. The school building represents one of the few standing symbols associated with Joplin in his hometown of Texarkana. Be sure to visit the Scott Joplin Mural downtown for a glimpse of the life and accomplishments of this Pulitzer Prize-winning composer.
Please note: If you've got time or are perhaps continuing your journey down the Mighty Mississippi River into Tennessee, Mississippi, or Louisiana, you'll want to work in a stop in the far southeast Arkansas town of Arkansas City, where the achievements of recently deceased Ebony publisher John H. Johnson will be perpetuated through the rebuilding and transforming of his childhood home into a museum and a new location on the Courthouse Square in Arkansas City. Additionally, an educational learning center, which will be located near the John H. Johnson Museum, will offer student/community enrichment activities in the areas of journalism, entrepreneurship, family and nutrition, education and the arts. Another part of the plans to commemorate Mr. Johnson's accomplishments includes the construction of the John H. Johnson Delta Cultural and Entrepreneurial complex at UAPB, which will provide educational and enrichment activities to the Entrepreneurial Center in Arkansas City but also expand curricula at UAPB in journalism, entrepreneurship, family and nutrition, fashion, and education. The museum will house permanent displays on Mr. John H. Johnson, and a traveling exhibit will be displayed in Arkansas City and presented throughout Arkansas, across the United States, and abroad upon request.
1 Capitol Mall, 4A-900 - Little Rock, Arkansas 72201 | 1-800-872-1259 or (501) 682-7777 (V/TT)