A collage of images of Ft. Smith. All images represent African American History
My home is western Arkansas, on the banks of the Arkansas River. Ft. Smith Arkansas is a city rich in history and I have a strong appreciation for the rich history of the black population that occupied this frontier town.
From the earliest days, Ft. Smith was a city that had people of color, and in fact free people would occupy the land before slavery was introduced to the area. One of the earliest residents was recorded in the first census taken in the state--which was 1840.
Ft. Smith 1840 Census. Names at very bottom were free people of color. In this image John Turner & Peter Colder were among the city's first residents. Both were free people of color.
Two of the earliest known black residents of the city in 1840
And the story cannot be told without telling the story of the Civil War, and the regiments that came through Ft.
Smith. One black regiment was organized in Ft. Smith---the 11th US Colored Infantry. I shall commit myself to telling the stories of the Black Union men and the Black Union regiments that served in Ft. Smith.
Document from Military Service Record of Theodore Anderson who joined the Union Army in Ft. Smith in March 1864, entering the 11th US Colored Infantry. Source: National Archives Military Service Records
Photographed by Tonia Holleman of Van Buren, Arkansas
BLACK FRONTIER HISTORY
With Ft. Smith being a frontier town, the richness is strong in the history of the US Marshals who served out of Judge Parker's Court. The most famous was Bass Reeves, but there were many other African American men who also rode for Judge Parker as US Deputy Marhsal.
Bass Reeves, US Deputy Marshal
Neely Factory one of Judge Parker's Deputy Marshals
Photo from Collection of Tonia Holleman
Many who know the history of Judge Parker also point out that the bailiff of his court was George Winston an educated man who moved to Ft. Smith after the Civil War.
George Winston, Bailiff in the Court of Judge Isaac C. Parker
Education has been the goal since Freedom came. Educators for Freedman schools came from Ohio and by the 1890s the city had a high school. Judge Isaac Parker gave out the diplomas for the first graduating class in 1892. The first principal was Prof. E. O. Trent from an educated family of free blacks of Ohio.
Prof. E. O.Trent, first black high school principal
Mahulda Arrington, first black female permanent teacher in Ft. Smith
Source: Sidney Rowell Reynolds
When Lincoln High School was built it was a red brick building. It was later painted white to the image that most people recognize.
Source: Gene Mccluney Ft. Smith
The main building at Lincoln High School in the years before it was closed
Source: Gene Mccluney, Ft Smith
There are many beautiful churches old and new in the city, and they stand as places that held the community together over the past 140 years. The denominations cover a wide range from Baptist to Methodist to Catholic, Church of God, Seventh Day Adventist, all were found in the Black community of the city! Theirs is a rich legacy of a diverse people within the smaller community. Some of the older buildings, stand and still hold services and some have closed and now only the tree lined streets speak the sweet hymns of the past.
Malalieu Methodist Church, now closed was one a major part of the religious pulse of the community.
Though now closed the structure, though fragile, still stands on North 9th street
This beautiful old structure is Quinn Chapel AME. Services still continue at this church after 140 years.
From 1917 to 1967, this was the only all black Catholic Parish in Western Arkansas.
A parish school was also a part of the community and both closed in 1967.
The history of my community is a rich one, and my goal is to continue to share the wonderfully rich stories from this community as well as others that I have had the opportunity to study and learn about over the past 20 years.
As today is the beginning of Black History Month, I appreciate the history of people large and small, and their contributions to the growth of a community. History is sometimes the story of the famous, but for me it is the story of the communities and their people from which we can all be proud.