Monday, June 30, 2008

White County community got start in farming

A story about the Pickens Chapel community in White County at the Cleburne County line for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 2005 is available on the community's website. (More Googling if you're wondering how I know!)

The tiny community appears as Pickens on the state highway map but is commonly known as Pickens Chapel. The focal structure in town is a church by the same name. Land was donated for the building in 1913 by the Pickens family.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Former slave founds community

The other night I was Googling myself (don't ask) and ran across a story I wrote last year for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette still posted online. It's about Blackville, a tiny community in Jackson County founded by and named for a former slave, Pickens Black.

Here is part of the story:

Blackville in southern Jackson County was founded and named for a former slave, Pickens Black.

Founded in 1891 by Pickens Black, a former slave who came to Jackson County from Alabama, the community came to be an important area in Jackson County with thriving farms, churches, schools, and even an airport.

Black was 14 when he came to the area after the Civil War. The teenager who worked odd jobs so he could buy a 40-acre farm eventually owned thousands of acres, 8,000 or more, and was one of the more prominent landowners in the area.

The deeds to some of his earliest land purchases were recorded in the Jackson County Courthouse court clerk's office. A large paperboard cutout of Black is now set up in the very same room where Black came to record his purchases. Researchers can take a look at some of Black’s documents in this room, now one of the exhibit rooms at the Jackson County Courthouse Museum.

As his landholdings and farm operations grew, Black employed well over 300 families, both black and white. Although he became one of the area’s largest landholders, Black continued working hard as a farmer. R.C. Laird, a retired farmer, recalled seeing Black working along with everyone else in town.

Read the entire story at the Democrat-Gazette's website.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Stalking your Brinkley ancestors!

"The 1930 Brinkley Census and How to Stalk Your Ancestors"

Bill Sayger's second volume of "A Brinkley Remembrancer" begins with that engaging headline and some really interesting information about Brinkley's population several decades ago:

There were 3,046 souls living in Brinkley in 1930; 1,637 were listed as "Whites" and 1,409 as "Negroes." We learn that from the census taken that year, from April 2nd thru May 1st, by Edgar T. McCreight, who had an insurance office in town.

A little further down the page, Sayger continues:

As one researches back in time, less and less information is available from the census record. For example, Blacks were only listed by name beginning with the 1870 census, unless they had been freed. On the early census records, a distinction was made between Blacks and Mulattoes. All Whites were listed by name beginning in 1850. Prior to that only the name of the head of the household was shown, with others -- the wife, children, or other family members, and the slaves -- listed under age groups, such as 1 to 10, 11 to 24, etc. Though not listed by name in 1850 and 1860, slaves were listed under their owner's names by their exact age, sex, and whether Black or Mulatto.

The next 60-plus pages of the book are copies of pages of the 1930 census. They are a bit hard on the eyes but worth looking at, especially if you had relatives in town then. (I did not.)

These two volumes of local history are very well researched and presented very personally with typed pages and even a few hand-written additions.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Louis Jordan, musician extraordinaire

A few days ago I was telling you about the history volume entitled "A Brinkley Remembrancer" and the second one, aptly named "A Brinkley Remembrancer, Part 2." Both are written by Bill Sayger, devoted Eastern Arkansas historian.

The cover of the second volume features a photograph of Louis Jordan, famous musician, and his father, Jim Jordan. Page 70 of the book has this information:

Louis Jordan, born and raised in Brinkley, was one of the nation's best known bandleaders, saxophone players, and popular songwriters in the 1940s ... James Jordan taught band to Brinkley, Cotton Plant, and Dark Corner young people.

The following page contains a reprint of a story published in the "Arkansas Times" in 2001 along with further information about James and Louis Jordan:

Jordan's father, known as Jim, played in minstrel shows and in the off season was at home and directed the Brinkley Brass Band, which Louis became a member of. [Louis] was strongly influenced in his early years by his father, his aunt Lizzie Reed, and Naomi Gettis, all of Brinkley and all musically proficient.

Read more about Bill Sayger, historian, at

Read more about Louis Jordan at the Encyclopedia of Arkansas and on my website Arkansas Profiles.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Florence Price, Arkansas musician

Florence Beatrice Smith Price was the first African-American female composer to have a symphonic composition performed by a major American symphony orchestra.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed her Symphony in E Minor on June 15, 1933.

She is part of a display of Arkansas artists now up at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.

Born and raised in Little Rock, Smith published musical pieces while still in high school. She graduated as valedictorian from Capitol Hill School in 1903.

Smith received her musical education in Boston and came back to Arkansas to teach. She was a music teacher for one year at the Cotton Plant-Arkadelphia Academy in Cotton Plant, only 8 miles from my hometown of Brinkley. When she left Cotton Plant she went to teach at Shorter College in North Little Rock, where I currently reside. She later taught and composed music in Atlanta, Little Rock, and Chicago. An elementary school in Chicago is named for her.

Read more about this trail-blazing musician at the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Wikipedia also has an informative piece.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

William Grant Still, Little Rock composer

William Grant Still was the first African-American composer to have a symphony performed by an American orchestra.

He is part of a display of Arkansas artists now up at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.

Still was born in Woodville, Mississippi, and moved to Little Rock when he was a baby with his mother. He graduated as valedictorian from Gibbs High School in Little Rock in 1911.

Still had several other African-American musical firsts. He was the first African-American to conduct a major symphony orchestra, the first African-American to have an opera performed by a major opera company, and the first to have an opera performed on national television.

Read more about William Grant Still here. As always, the Encyclopedia of Arkansas has an excellent piece on the subject.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Consolidated White River Academy

The Consolidated White River Academy in Brinkley was founded the late 1800s so that African-American students in the area could finish high school.

A number of African-American church groups created the academy so that a Christian education following the model of Tuskegee Institute would be available to young people who at that time had extremely limited opportunities to get an education.

An excellent piece about the Consolidated White River Academy can be found at the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas. It was written by my high school history teacher and a young lady who freelanced at the local paper in our hometown when I was the editor.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Fargo Agricultural School

Geraldine Davidson, curator of the Fargo Agricultural School, shows a scale model of the school (top photo) that she constructed and her photo in the composite for the class of 1947 (bottom photo).

For 30 years, from 1919-1947, Fargo Agricultural School in northern Monroe County was one of the few places African-Amercian students in Monroe County could get an education.

The school was started by Floyd Brown, a graduate of Tuskegee Institute who had studied under Booker T. Washington.

The students lived at the school, learning academics in the morning hours and spending the afternoons learning crafts and skills like woodworking and farming for the boys and cooking and sewing for the girls.

Geraldine Purcell Davidson, a native of the area who graduated from the school in 1947, for many years has been the curator of the Fargo Agricultural School Museum. Located on the campus of the former school, the museum is a sprawling and impressive collection of photographs, school papers, books, and items the students made like tables and uniforms. Mrs. Davidson gives the best museum tours I've ever had.

You'll definitely want to add this museum to the list of places in Arkansas you want to visit. In the meantime, you can read about FAS and its founder, Floyd Brown, at the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Old Marion Anderson High School

The old Marian Anderson High School building (along with the gym and elementary school) in Brinkley has been torn down in recent years.

Located on Grand Avenue in my Eastern Arkansas hometown, the school was where Brinkley's African-American students were educated until integration finally reached us in the early 1970s. Incidentally, the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas case declared that segregated schools were unconstitutional way back in 1954; the infamous Central High School desegregation happened in 1957. Almost 20 years after segregation was found to be unconstitutional in public schools, Brinkley schools were integrated and the Marion Anderson High School was no longer used as such.

Instead, the old building with its high ceilings and hardwood floors became Brinkley's junior high school. It was there that I attended the seventh and eighth grade; I had attended fifth and sixth grade in the former elementary school right there on the same property.

Years later the buildings were deemed unsafe because of asbestos and the seventh and eighth grades were moved to the high school and fifth and sixth grades to the elementary school.

I find it interesting that at the time I was attending the old Marion Anderson High School as Brinkley Junior High, I was aware only of the name of the school. I did not realize that it had been the local high school for African-American students nor did I know who Marion Anderson was.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Forrest City High School building

The old Forrest City High School building is now the district's administration offices.

Built in Classical Revival style in 1915, the original Forrest City High School building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.

Many of its charming original features remain, including the hardwood floors that now slant in places, and the flights of stairs that are worn in the middle from the many years of pounding from young feet on their way to class.

What remains of the building is now used for the local school district’s administrative offices. It’s also the home of the documents chronicling the building’s history.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Old Jamestown school building

The Jamestown school building in Independence County is in excellent shape and is used for community gatherings. The original school bell is still in place.

The 1926 three-room frame school building in Jamestown (near Batesville in Independence County) remarkably still has its original school bell. It was listed in 1992 thanks to the efforts of former student Bubba Burks and others.

The original wood flooring and walls are still there in the building, and old fashioned benches and a piano complete the country schoolhouse decor. A partition that was used to divide the large main room into two smaller classrooms is still in working order.

The old school building is now the Jamestown community center. Dinners, reunions, and the annual Jamestown homecoming are held there. It is for certain that a lot of reminiscing about bygone school days takes place during those gatherings.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Old Maxville school

The old Maxville school building in Sharp County is still in good shape.

The Maxville one-room rock school building in Sharp County has been renovated and is used for storage by Larry Brown, a retired Cave City superintendent.

The mid-1930s Works Progress Administration building has a new roof and vinyl siding on small portions of the exterior.

The first Maxville school was in a log church built in 1875; classes were being held there in the Methodist church by 1871. Another schoolhouse was built around the turn of the century about a mile south of the log church. Built with free local labor on land deeded by Columbus Snow, the school taught children up to eighth grade.

Maxville’s wood schoolhouse burned in 1934 and students held classes in the Methodist church, which had been the first school for the community, while waiting for the new fieldstone school to be built. Located about 300 yards south of the old school, that building was used until 1948 when Maxville consolidated with Cave City.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Poughkeepsie School in Sharp County

The old Poughkeepsie School is a beautiful stone structure in Sharp County.

The 1929 rock school buildings at Poughkeepsie in Sharp County were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.

The main rock building was constructed after the original school burned. Until the new school was completed, elementary school students finished out the term at the Church of Christ and the high school students went to the Baptist church for classes. They utilized the Masonic Lodge space on the second level of the church building.

When it was completed, the new stone building educated students up until 12th grade.

“I went to school there the first day it opened,” Ima Jean Norris pointed out with a smile. She was in the seventh grade then.

Several years afterward, another stone building was constructed and used as the agricultural classroom. A white building behind that was the elementary school.

For years the campus was the site of school reunions. “Big crowds would come from all over,” Norris pointed out.

The Poughkeepsie school served as such until just a few years ago, and now the site is owned by Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mount Pleasant in Izard County. The campus, which has been renamed Camp Cornerstone, is now used for youth camps and other related functions.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

One-room schoolhouses

The Stone Schoolhouse in Independence County is one of many old one-room schoolhouses still standing and in use across Arkansas.

One-room schoolhouses are a thing of the past, but decades ago the buildings were the center of the community. Built in the early part of the 20th century, the remaining little schoolhouses hearken back to a time when life was lived in tiny communities and revolved around school, church, and neighbors.

In days gone by, one- and two-room schoolhouses were scattered every few miles and children walked to get there every day. Many only went up to eighth grade with just one or two teachers for the entire school. In the two-room schools, one teacher instructed children in first to fourth grade, and the fifth to eighth grade children had another teacher.

The memories that took place at these small schoolhouses are still strong in the minds of those who attended.

“A lot of national history goes back to that place,” E.R. Coleman said magnanimously of the Stone Schoolhouse where he got his early education. To prove it, he’s collecting memories — about 500 pages worth — that he may publish someday.

You can read more about the Stone County Schoolhouse in Independence County and about quite a few other one-room schoolhouses around the state on my website Arkansas Profiles.

Desha School in Independence County

Jamestown School in Independence County

Maxville School in Sharp County

Poughkeepsie School in Sharp County

These are some of the photographs of old school buildings in Arkansas that I have taken over the last few years. I will share more of them with you in the days and weeks to come.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Integration of Hoxie schools

The schools in Hoxie weren't the first to integrate but were the first to be met with active resistance. The fight took place mostly in the courtroom and went on for months.

The first day of integration in Hoxie was July 11, 1955, a year after the court decision Brown vs. Board of Education declared segregation unconstitutional but more than two years before the infamous Central High School fiasco that took place in September 1957.

A small group of opposers collected outside the school for the first morning of integration, but the first few days and weeks went relatively smoothly. "Life" magazine was there to document the event. Public reaction to the photos that were published by the magazine on July 25 was swift and quite negative.

Seeing the black and white students together in the photos incited the town's segregationists, who launched an attack against the school board. Numerous white citizen groups were formed to oppose integration, with their underlying fear being that integrated schools would ultimately lead to intermarriage.

In researching and preparing to write a piece on Hoxie's integration for STAND News last fall, I communicated with Ms. Fayth Hill Washington. As one of the students who had been part of the integration back in 1955, her comments shed great light on the situation.

This experience in Hoxie was desegregation, in my opinion, verses an integration. I say that because even after things leveled off, we were not integrated into the school or the State. We remained segregated, unable to participate in any extra-curricular activities outside of the school, including choir trips, and sports. The 25 African American students were pioneers and faced many challenges and experiences. One challenge was trying to become a part of something you know nothing about with a benchmark. There were no African American teachers anywhere and [there was an] obvious lack of preparation for the experience and transition plan for the 25 African American students. The white teachers did not know how to teach us, as they did not know anything about us, our culture or what was offensive to us.

Ms. Washington had many other enlightening comments that I hope to share with you here and on my website Arkansas Profiles.

In the meantime, the Encyclopedia of Arkansas has some insightful information on this event.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Remembering Brinkley

While going through some of my things this past weekend, I ran across something I hadn't seen in a while — a soft-bound, two-volume history of Brinkley, my hometown. What a treasure.

"A Brinkley Remembrancer" and "A Brinkley Remembrancer Part 2," the volumes were written and produced by Bill Sayger, the director of the Central Delta Depot Museum.

The cover of the first volume has a sketch of Robert C. Brinkley, the railroad official for whom the town was named. The second volume's cover features a photo of two Brinkley sons, Louis Jordan and his father, Jim Jordan.

In the coming weeks I hope to share with you some of the gems from these publications.