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A Rich History

After recording this radio address today, I was supposed to attend an event in honor of Black History Month at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in downtown Little Rock.

Unfortunately, it was canceled because of the weather. I understood. But I was disappointed. I was disappointed because I was looking forward to meeting the student leaders scheduled to attend. And I was especially disappointed because I wanted to learn more about Arkansas history. It’s one of the best parts of my job.

First erected in 1912, the Mosaic Templars building itself is a monument to perseverance and the resolve to overcome. The building was nearly torn down in the early Nineties. Then, while undergoing renovation in 2005, it was destroyed by fire.

Thanks in part to the Arkansas Department of Heritage, the Mosaic Templars building was rebuilt and reopened in 2008 as a center that preserves and celebrates our state’s African-American history and culture.

Arkansas is rich with places to visit and learn about the contributions of African-American leaders in our history.

Not far from the Mosaic Templars building is the former Taborian Hall, once considered the hub of the black business community in Central Arkansas. Today, it’s home to the Arkansas Flag and Banner company. On the upper level of the building is something really special — the Dreamland Ballroom. That’s where legends like Louie Armstrong, Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald once performed. The ballroom is now being restored.

Across the interstate from the Dreamland are Philander Smith and Arkansas Baptist colleges. Both date back more than a century and were established to educate former slaves.

Of course, there’s Little Rock Central High School and the nearby Daisy Bates Home. And I can look out my office window here at the Capitol and see the amazing memorial to the Little Rock Nine.

Those are just a few sites in Little Rock. Across the state, it really gets fascinating:

• In Fort Smith, you’ll find the Alphonso Trent House — the childhood home of the famous Jazz Age musician. His Trent Orchestra influenced many of the all-time greats. It also was one of the first African-American acts permitted to use front entrances to clubs and restaurants.

• Helena is home to Centennial Baptist Church, the only known example in Arkansas of a black church built by a black architect. Henry James Price built the Gothic Revival structure in 1895.

• In Texarkana, there’s the Orr School, where the great composer Scott Joplin once attended. Texarkana is the hometown of the “Father of Ragtime Music.”

• Just north of Brinkley, in the little town of Fargo, you’ll find a former one-room schoolhouse turned into an agricultural museum. It was built in 1919 by Floyd Brown, a Baptist preacher from Mississippi. Thousands of black students were educated in that tiny schoolhouse. In his memoirs, Brown says he built the school for — get this — $2.85.

There’s also the African American Cultural Center in Jonesboro, the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum in Tyronza...

I could go on and on.

During Black History Month, or any month, I encourage all Arkansans to visit these remarkable sites with their rich histories.

They’re more than just tourist attractions.

They tell us about ourselves.

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