Explore Arkansas's Historic African American Communities

Mosaic Templars Cultural Center - Friday, December 22, 2017

Arkansas is home to a number of historic communities founded by African Americans that are rich with culture and heritage. Despite years of hardship, the legacies of these communities still stand today commanding respect as cornerstones of the African American people for more than a century.

Josephine Pankey and her husband, Samuel

Pankey, Pulaski County

Pankey is a small African American community located in the western part of Pulaski County. Now a part of Little Rock, it is the last-remaining community that was owned and subdivided by real estate agent and land developer Josephine Pankey.

In 1907, Pankey purchased 80 acres of land that soon grew into a thriving mecca for African Americans in Central Arkansas. Boasting a number of businesses, including Bob’s Cafe and Pool Hall, Willie’s Snack Bar, White Eagle Café and an outdoor movie theater, the Pankey area experienced rapid growth. In 1940, this growth prompted the need for a school. The first school was a one-room building that held Grades 1-8. A decade later, a new school with administrative offices, a cafeteria and multiple classrooms was built on the same property. The school was attended by more than 200 African American students from 1958 to 1965.

The community’s footprint faded with the westward expansion of Little Rock. However, on Nov. 15, 2016, the Josephine Pankey Community Center opened its doors, forever marking the Pankey area as one of black excellence.

Reed Schoolhouse

Reed, Desha County

Reed is located in Desha County off U.S. Highway 65. It was established as a predominantly African American community in the mid-twentieth century. The town, incorporated in 1961, was named after Roosevelt Reed, who operated a large general store in the area. The town’s first mayor was Moses William Johnson.

Several business quickly opened, but only a few businesses and churches remain open today. Many residents travel to McGhee, Dumas and other nearby towns for work. Reed still continues to function as a municipality, and farming remains the major industry in the area.

Daisy Bates leaving a meeting at the City Hall of Mitchellville

Mitchellville, Desha County

Mitchellville, located in the Arkansas Delta, has the highest percentage of African American residents of any city in Arkansas. The rich soil of Mitchellville attracted investors who created plantations and grew cotton that was maintained and harvested by slaves. After the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, many of the former slaves and their descendants remained on the land as sharecroppers.

During the Great Depression, the city fell on hard times. The Watson District Association, lea by John Mitchell, purchased land, divided into lots and sold them to black families. Civil rights leader Daisy Bates and Bob Riley, an Ouachita Baptist University professor sought to improve the situatio n, and by 1970, through a federal grant, a water and sewer system were established.

While some city services have been discontinued, a new city hall and a few apartment complexes have been constructed in more recent years.

Allport, Lonoke County

After the Civil War ended and slavery was abolished, many freed slaves in the area purchased land or became tenant farmers. During this time, an African American community formed along Crooked Creek that later became known as Allport.

In 1967, Johnnie Gay and other community leaders successfully incorporated the town. Gay was the town’s first mayor and worked to improve the area by negotiating with state and federal government officials. Gay soon secured funding to install street lights and to purchase a police car and a road grader. One Arkansas Gazette article even featuring a headline stating, “All-Negro Town of Allport Proud of Its Street Lights and Civic Spirit.”

Allport remains largely populated by African Americans. The 2010 census reported 80 percent of the town’s population was African American. Today, there is a church but no other stores or businesses. Located two miles west of Humnoke, the majority of Allport’s residents commute to work and for other needs.

The original Anthony Funeral Home location in Anthonyville

Anthonyville, Crittenden County

Crittenden county and surrounding areas, once owned by Spain and France, was home to a number of plantations established in the area before the Louisiana Purchase made the land a part of a growing U.S. in 1803.

A rich agriculture industry developed in the area following the Civil War. Many freed slaves remained on the plantations as tenant farmers and worked to negotiate with landowners to buy lots for themselves.

In 1946, Luke Sears Anthony Sr. and his son Mascaline (M.L.) Anthony opened Anthony Funeral Home. Leadership was left to Solon Anthony, for whom the city is named, and his wife, Elenor. The two found work in the public school system, and Solon later became principal of a school in Hughes. The funeral home business soon expanded into West Memphis.

Today, Anthonyville has a volunteer fire department and is home to Bright Star Missionary Baptist Church.

While many of Arkansas’s African American communities have changed dramatically, they played a pivotal role in shaping Arkansas history. At Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, we want to preserve this history for years to come. As a museum of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, the mission of the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center is to preserve, interpret and celebrate African American history and culture in Arkansas. To learn more about the history of these communities and more please visit us at 501 W. Ninth Street, Little Rock, AR 72201.

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