One of two buildings that comprise the Delta Cultural Center, Helena
Heritage and Civil Rights Pathways in Arkansas
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The bridges that brought us over...
The first clear record of African-Americans in Arkansas is from
1721, more than a hundred years before statehood. In the decades that
followed, black men and women established an important presence in the
During the time of slavery in Arkansas that lasted
through the early 1800s, black Arkansans helped shape the pioneer
culture. Although they were slaves during this time, many escaped the
hard labor of the fields and through their talents and skills became
craftsmen, creating frontier furniture, cast iron skillets, plows and
locks. Strong group ties, extended families and religion were extremely
important. This created unity and was the basis of the cultural
enrichment that African-Americans still treasure today.
Experiencing the freedom brought in part by their efforts during the Civil War in Arkansas,
African-Americans in Arkansas discovered a new spirit and the first
opportunity to build a black community. Education and participation in
politics became the hope for the future. From 1869 to 1893, more than 45
black men won seats in the state legislature.
The Mosaic Templars of America organization was founded in Little
Rock in 1882 as a fraternal organization by John E. Bush and Chester W.
Keatts. The Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, located in the
reconstructed headquarters building, is dedicated collecting,
preserving, interpreting and celebrating Arkansas's African American
culture and community from 1870 to present. It also informs and educates
the public about Black achievement -- especially in business, politics
and the arts. The third floor auditorium will be host to performing arts
productions, conferences and public symposiums. The center has more
than 8,000-square-feet of interactive exhibit and education space.
Located at 9th & Broadway in downtown Little Rock.
In 1902, John E. Bush organized the Colored Men's Business League.
The following year, black-owned banks were opened in Pine Bluff and
Little Rock. Black communities across Arkansas began to grow and
flourish with newspapers, beauty shops, jewelry stores, hotels and
The same era represented an important time for African American education in Arkansas.
Floyd Brown founded the Fargo Agricultural School. John Brown Watson
and Dr. Lawrence Davis, Sr., presidents at Arkansas Agricultural
Mechanical and Normal College in Pine Bluff (now the University of
Arkansas at Pine Bluff), devoted themselves to black students in rural
Cultural life flourished in many Arkansas towns. The blues thrived
in the Delta as Helena and West Memphis nightclubs featured Willie
"Sonny Boy" Williamson, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and B.B. King.
The integration struggles at Little Rock Central High School were a
turning point for the nation's racial situation during the 1950s.
The places listed in this section represent important sites to
African-Americans in Arkansas. Some are not open to the public, they are drive-by only. What you'll discover is a history that
has helped to shape the world as we know it today.
Explore Historic Sites. The imprints we've left behind...
- Alfonzo Trent House, Fort Smith
- This is the childhood home of the famed black jazz musician in the
1920s and '30s. His band was among the first permitted to use front
entrances to clubs and restaurants instead of the customary service
entrance. Private site -- exterior viewing only. 1301 N. 9th St.,
- Little Rock Nine Memorial
- Nine life-sized bronze statues pays homage to the nine Little Rock
students -- Melba Pattillo, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Gloria Ray,
Carlotta Walls, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas, Minnijean Brown and
Thelma Mothershed -- who overcame major obstacles to integrate Little
Rock Central High School (now a national historic site) in 1957. Located
on the State Capitol grounds. Woodlane and Capitol Avenue.
- Masonic Temple, Pine Bluff
- Built by and for African-Americans, the Masonic Lodge was the
tallest building in Pine Bluff when completed in 1904. The building was
completely paid for exactly 14 years after the cornerstone of the
building was laid. Fourth and State Sts.
- Philander Smith College, Little Rock
- Founded in 1877, this college was established to educate former
slaves. The college is still in existence today and has produced
prominent local and national leaders. 812 W. 13th, 501-375-9845.
- Centennial Baptist Church, Helena
- This church is the only known Arkansas example of a Black church
designed by a black architect. York and Columbia Sts., 870-338-7550.
- Historic Arkansas Museum, Little Rock
- Four restored 19th-century houses exist on their original downtown
site, each built partially with slave labor. Guided tours on the hour
(except noon) feature living history performances with African-American
actors portraying characters based on historical research. Small
admission fee. 200 East Third St., 501-324-9351.
- Arkansas Baptist College, Little Rock
- Arkansas Baptist College is one of Arkansas's oldest black
educational institutions and was among the first Baptist colleges
founded in America for African-Americans. 1600 Bishop St., 501-374-7856.
- St. Mark Baptist Church, Little Rock
- This sanctuary houses one of the largest active black congregations in Arkansas. 5722 West 12th St., 501-663-3955.
- Taborian Hall, Little Rock
- This building was constructed in 1916 and was considered the hub of
the African-American business community. The hall was constructed by an
African-American contractor and served as headquarters for the Arkansas
Chapter of the Knights and Daughters of Tabor, a national fraternity.
Ninth and State Sts. The building is now home to Arkansas Flag and Banner. The upper level Dreamland Ballroom, where many major black entertainers performed, such as Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, and Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie, just to name a few, is currently undergoing restoration.
- Dunbar Junior/Senior High & Memorabilia Room, Little Rock
- From 1929-1955, Dunbar was a segregated high school and was
considered the premier school for blacks in Arkansas. Its liberal arts
curriculum, combined with a vocational education track, made it the only
black secondary school in the state accredited by the North Central
Association for Secondary Schools and Colleges. The memorabilia room
contains items and artifacts from alumni during these years. 1100 Wright
- First Missionary Baptist Church, Little Rock
- Organized in 1845, the First Missionary Baptist Church at 7th and
Gaines Streets in Little Rock is reported to be the oldest black church
in Arkansas. 501-372-2705.
- Daisy Bates Home, Little Rock
- Home of L.C. and Daisy Bates which served as a haven to the Little
Rock Nine during the 1957 desegregation crisis. A National Historic
Landmark, the home is being restored as a museum. Driving tour only. 1207
- Ish House (private residence), Little Rock
- The original owner of the Ish house, Dr. G.W. Ish, made many
contributions to society, the State of Arkansas and the African-American
community. One of Dr. Ish's greatest accomplishments was his role in
the introduction of the drugs isoniazid and streptomycin for treatment
of tuberculosis. Private residence -- exterior viewing only. 16th and
- McRae Tuberculosis Sanitarium for Negroes, Alexander
- Named in honor of the former Arkansas Governor, Thomas C. McRae,
who signed a 1923 law authorizing the hospital during a time when the
tuberculosis survival rate was 25% for blacks. In 1930, Dr. G.W. Ish, a
prominent physician in Little Rock, offered Hugh A. Browne, a TB
specialist and survivor, the position of administrator and director of
medical services at McRae Tuberculosis Sanitarium. McRae was the first
institution of its type in the country staffed entirely by blacks.
During Browne's 31 years at McRae, he treated more than 7,000 patients
and trained 15 young Black doctors. The facility closed in 1968 and now
houses the Alexander Human Development Center. Tours available by
appointment. Contact Ralph Nelson at 501-847-3506. 14701 Hwy. 111 South,
- Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, Little Rock
- Central High School is noted as Arkansas's most important historic
landmark associated with the Civil Rights movement. The integration of
the school in 1957 by nine blacks is said to symbolize the end of
racially segregated public schools in America. Visit the Central
High Museum and Visitor Center across the street from the school to see this history come alive. 2125 W.
14th St., 501-374-1957.
- Mosaic Templars of America Headquarters, Little Rock
- Located in the hub of the black business district, the Mosaic
Templar building, constructed in 1911, was headquarters to one of the
most powerful fraternal organizations in America. Frank W. Blaisdell,
the architect responsible for designing the building, also contributed
to the landscape plan of Arkansas's State Capitol grounds. 900 Broadway. The reconstructed building is now home to the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center.
- Old State House, Little Rock
- The first Arkansas state capitol was constructed in 1836, partly
with slave labor. After the Civil War and during the Reconstruction
period, over 40 black legislators served in the Old State House. It is
believed that Mifflin Gibbs, the first black elected municipal judge in
the United States, had his office in the Old State House. Today the Old
State House is an accredited museum of Arkansas history. 501-324-9685.
- Freedom Park, Helena and Phillips County
- One of 25+ Civil War interpretive sites located throughout historic Helena and Phillips County. The park will include five major exhibits that will explore the African-American experience in Civil War Helena. The exhibits follow the journey of the African-Americans from fugitive slave to freedom; and for some, enlistment in the Union Army and participation in the Battle of Helena on July 4, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation exhibit will be the centerpiece of the park. Freedom Park is scheduled to open on Feb. 23. Freedom Park was the first site in Arkansas to be designated for inclusion on the National Park Service's National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program.
- Orr School, Texarkana
- Scott Joplin, an African-American composer, is known as the "Father
of Ragtime Music." He attended the Orr School -- where he formulated
many of his ideas. This building represents one of the few standing
symbols associated with Joplin in his hometown of Texarkana. 831 Laurel.
Also visit the Scott Joplin Mural at 3rd and Main Sts.
Experience Museums and Cultural Centers. History and culture that you can see, feel and experience...
- African-American Cultural Center, Jonesboro
- This center emphasizes the history of African-Americans who lived
and worked in Craighead County and covers from the arrival of the first
slave in 1860 to the present day. It also includes contemporary history
of African-Americans in other parts of the country.
- Floyd Brown-Fargo Agricultural School Museum, Fargo
- Floyd Brown started the Fargo Agricultural School in 1919. It is
said that Brown built the school with $2.85. The school provided a
quality high school education to thousands of black students for 30
years. The property was later sold to the State of Arkansas and now
serves as a museum of the legacy Brown left behind. Two miles north of
Brinkley, on Hwy. 49, then Floyd Brown Dr., 870-734-1140.
- Delta Cultural Center, Helena
- The Delta Cultural Center tells the story of efforts to settle and
cultivate the fertile Mississippi River Valley. It also features the
great African-American heritage of gospel and blues music. Missouri and
Natchez Sts., 870-338-4350.
- EMOBA (Ernie's Museum of Black Arkansans), Little Rock
- Changing exhibits explore the Black experience in the Museum of Black Arkansans and Performing Arts
Center. Preserve your family name and become a part of the museum on
engraved bricks. Small admission fee. Call for exhibit schedule. 1208
Louisiana St., 501-372-0018.
- Little Rock Central High Museum and Visitors Center
- The center opened Sept. 24, 2007 coinciding with the 50th
anniversary of the 1957 desegregation crisis. Features 3,000-square-feet
of permanent exhibits covering the 1957 events that took place at
Central High School and its role in the greater civil rights movements
in the U. S; audio/visual and interactive programs; bookstore. The
former visitor center, a restored Mobil Service Station, is now used for
special programs. 2120 Daisy L. Gatson Bates Dr. 501-374-1957.
- Southern Tenant Farmers Museum
- During the early 1930s, the Mitchell-East Building and adjacent
former bank in Tyronza housed the businesses of H. L. Mitchell and Clay
East, two of the principal founders of the Southern Tenant Farmers'
Union (STFU). This national union established July 13, 1934, in Tyronza
by 11 whites and seven blacks conducted much of its business at the
Mitchell-East Building. Railroad & Main Avenues, 870-972-2803.
- University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
- The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff houses the permanent
exhibit "Keepers of the Spirit," a tribute to the legacy of Dr. L.A.
Davis, Sr., and AM&N College, highlighting the tenure of the former
president and chancellor. UAPB also houses the "Persistence of the
Spirit" exhibit, which displays the history and contributions of
African-Americans in Arkansas. Call for exhibit schedule. 1200 N.
* NOTE: This brief list contains some of the museums in
Arkansas that are uniquely African-American oriented. Many other
museums in the state offer seasonal exhibits on African-American
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Experience Arkansas People. They blazed a trail for us to travel...
Arkansas has produced some noteworthy personalities - both past and
present. Many are instantly recognized, from the poet laureate Maya
Angelou, who spent some of her formative years in Stamps, to Forrest
City's legendary singer Al Green.
Arkansas's people have had a great influence over music. William
Grant Still, known as the "Dean of Black Composers," composed several
hundred musical arrangements and was the first African-American in the
United States to have a symphonic composition performed by a major
orchestra. Florence Price was the first black woman in the United States
to win recognition as a composer, and Willie "Sonny Boy" Williamson was
one of the famous Arkansas Delta blues performers who inspired the fall
tradition that has become Helena's King Biscuit Blues Festival.
Many African-American Arkansans have risen to national prominence,
including Dr. Jocelyn Elders. She became the first black female to head
the Arkansas Department of Health and later the first black to be named
U.S. Surgeon General. Another political first from Arkansas was Rodney
Slater, who was the first black named to the Arkansas State Highway
Commission and the first black Secretary of Transportation for the
United States Department of Transportation. Debbye Turner, a Jonesboro
native, is a former Miss America and only the third black to ever hold
But there's a deeper African-American history in Arkansas. While you
may not know the name John Johnson, you know his work. This Arkansas
native is the publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines, two of the most
influential and widely circulated African-American publications in the
United States. If you've used Isoplus or any other hair-styling formulas
from JM Products, then you appreciate the work of Ernest Joshua, who
founded this international company in central Arkansas.
Some Arkansans have a way of making people feel good, like our two
Harlem Globetrotters - Arkansas native Reece "Goose" Tatum and
Arkansan-by-choice Hubert "Geese" Ausbie. Other Arkansas sports greats
are NBA All-Stars Sidney Moncrief and Scottie Pippen and the NFL's Keith
Jackson, just to name a few.
Additional information on famous Black Arkansans can be found on The Arkansas Black Hall of Fame Web page.
Check out the Famous Arkansans list for information on other important Arkansans.
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