To say Crittenden County has a complicated history when it comes to race is to say that water has a complicated history when it comes to making things wet.
No doubt, the relationship between the black community and the white community in this region has had its ups and downs. Arkansas was a former slave state and a member of the Confederacy. The Delta was one of the last areas of the nation to desegregate its schools.
Even in recent years, racial issues have divided the community on various levels.
The wheels of racial progress turned slow in Crittenden County. After the Civil War, during Reconstruction,
within the county were high. The Ku Klux Klan was extremely active in Crittenden County as it was throughout Arkansas, where the Klan intimidated, threatened,
and attacked blacks,
as well as whites, who supported the Republican Party. Then-Governor Powell Clayton declared martial law in 14 counties, including Crittenden County.
Clayton created a state militia that included blacks and whites, including a clash at the courthouse in Marion. In the late 1860s, hundreds of black citizens in Crittenden County periodically sought protection from plantation owner E. M. Main, who was a Freedmen’s Bureau official succeeding his murdered predecessor.
Born into this environment was George Berry Washington. The son of slaves, Washington rose to become a social leader and one of the largest landowners in the county in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Washington was on his way to becoming one of the largest landowners in Crittenden County with the November 1893 purchase of a 40-acre plot for $200.
In 1898, he acquired an additional 70 acres, and he also operated a cotton gin. By 1900, Washington and his family lived where the Tyronza River meets Gibson Bayou in an area that became known as the “Main Place” and where the George Berry Washington Memorial, the “Angel in the Field” made famous by artist Carroll Cloar, is now located.
Washington managed part of his vast holdings through the sharecropping system, with 12 chattel mortgages in 1923, employing as many as 100 farmhands to work other sections of his property.
Washington’s status as a large property owner was mirrored in his social activities. He became a member of the local Prince Hall Freemasonry chapter and bought land in Tyronza Lodge and Earle. He served as a preacher at St. Peter’s Baptist Church and at the Spring Hill Church three miles east of his home. He also was known to preach to farm hands gathered at his home. Washington deeded five acres in 1919 for the Gibson Bayou Cemetery and Pentecostal Church Association.
By 1874, Reconstruction in Arkansas had ended, and the Democrats returned to power. With its heavily black populations now empowered with the right to vote for adult males, Crittenden County became a flashpoint for racial tensions. In 1888, blacks occupied most of the major offices in Crittenden County, including county judge, county clerk, assessor, and a representative in the state legislature.
Disenchanted whites, numbering about 80, assembled in Marion about 10 a.m. on July 13, 1888, and marched to the courthouse where several officials were compelled to resign at gunpoint. Most left town by choice or by force. No black candidate would be elected to a county office for the next 100 years.
But through it all, there have always been opportunities for people of all races to come together and there have always been people of color who have worked not only to help make those opportunities come to fruition but also have risen above the racial divide and made their marks on this county and beyond.
Born in 1903, John Gammon was the grandson of a slave, a pioneer, a catfish farmer and philanthropist.
He was also the first black member of the Arkansas Stabilization and Conservation Committee.
The Gammon family has had a long career in farming, starting in the 1890s.
Gammon took great pride in his family heritage. His ancestors came to America in the 1700s on a slave ship from Africa, first being sold at auction in Virginia before going to South Carolina in the 1800s. Gammon’s great-grandfather was later sold to a farm in Mississippi. After slavery was abolished he came across the Mississippi River and settled in eastern Arkansas.
John Gammon Jr. was born in Marion and graduated in 1931 from Arkansas AM& N (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) where he was a quarterback of the football team. During the 1930s, as part of the New Deal, he served as a junior analyst in the U.S.
Department of Agriculture, and founded a number of poultry associations in Woodruff County. Gammon also organized the Negro division of the Arkansas Farm Bureau in 1948 and served as president of the 3,500 member organization until 1965 when it merged with Arkansas Farm Bureau. Mr. Gammon was well known for hosting an annual
fish fry and wild game
dinner that was attended by many prominent politicians and businesmen.
The proceeds from the annual dinners went to the John Gammon Scholarship Foundation which Gammon started in 1967 to provide college scholarships for young people “who could not otherwise go to college.”
Gammon received many awards during his lifetime.
He received the Little Rock Sertoma Clubs Service to Mankind award in 1973, the Headliner Award from the Memphis Gridiron Club in 1982 and humanitarian awards from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. He also served on the Board of Crittenden Memorial
– The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
once opined, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.”-HISTORY
Continued from Page 6
Hospital Board of Directors, as a Director of the Crittenden County Sheltered Workshop and as a member of the Commodity Credit Corp. He was also a member of the Arkansas Stabilization Conservation Service Committee and served on the University of Arkansas Development Council.
The family farm is now owned by Willie, Carey and J.B. Gammon. They are a sixth-generation farm family that still works the family land that has been in the family more than a century.
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once opined, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.” And one individual who embodied
both intelligence and character was Ora Breckinridge. Ora Fletcher Harris Breckenridge
was born in Wilson,
Arkansas to Joshua and Odessa Fletcher in January 1943. When she was 12 years old, her family moved to West Memphis and her relationship with black education began, highlighted in 1949 when she appeared in “Life” magazine as a kindergartner as part of a story on the need for a black school in the city after the only one in the community was destroyed in a fire. Fifty years later, when “Life” returned to West Memphis for a follow-up story, Breckinridge was featured once again — this time as the principal of Wonder Elementary School.
Between features in “Life,” she graduated from school and married the late Wille Harris, who was one of the first black alderman to sit on the West Memphis City Council. She began her teaching career at Crawfordsville Elementary School, went on to receive her Master’s Degree in Administration. In 1980, Ora met the late Rev. Oddie Breckenridge. In December of 1981 they married.
After working for 19 years in Crawfordsville, Breckenridge was given the opportunity to work in her hometown with the West Memphis School District as principal of Wedlock Elementary. She later accepted a position as principal of Wonder Elementary School, her high school alma mater.
She was a member of the Beautiful Zion Baptist Church, a Sunday school teacher, choir director, a Justice of the Peace, a business owner, a member of the Gracious Ladies Society Club, a Girl Scout troop leader, a community softball coach, and was a Lifetime member of the NAACP. She was even a guest on Good Morning America.
Breckenridge retired after 45 years of service in the Field of Education, touching the lives of countless students, their children and their grandchildren. When asked what kept her motivated she simply replied, “With much prayer I tried to live by this motto, never rest until your Good is Better and your Better is Best.”
And that she did.
Another Crittenden County stalwart chose a different field for her chosen profession. Dr. Marian Barr, who only recently passed away, lived a life of service and a life of trailblazing, leaving behind an important legacy.
Dr. Barr was the first black physician to establish a medical practice in West Memphis. She received her doctorate degree in Medicine from Meharry Medical College, with a residency in Internal Medicine and further study in Nephrology and Hypertension. She taught at Philander Smith College in Little Rock for two years prior to medical school.
Dr. Barr was a standout in her chosen field and in the community she called home. She was a New York Life Scholar and is listed in Who’s Who among students in American Universities and Colleges.
A member of Beta Kappa Chi National Scientific Honor Society, Sigma Xi Biologic Honorary Society, American Medical Association and the Arkansas Medical Society, she was the Medical Director at West Memphis Intermediary Care Facility, known as Pathfinders, Inc., and served on the Board of Trustees at Arkansas State University Mid-South.
She recently served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of East Arkansas Family Health Center, which has six healthcare delivery sites: West Memphis, Lepanto, Blytheville, Trumann, Helena and Earle. She was also a certified Parliamentarian by the National Association of Parliamentarians and her picture hangs on the Wall of Health Sciences at the University of Arkansas in Pine Bluff, honoring distinguished healthcare professionals.
She received the Governors Certificate of Outstanding Services to the Community. She was a member of the Arkansas Medical Society and the Crittenden County Medical Society, a Life Member of the NAACP, a member of the Royal Grand Chapter; Order of the Eastern Star, a Chartering Member of Pi Chi Omega Chapter and Lifetime Member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.
Outside of her medical practice, she was also a writer, author of the “History of the Earle Arkansas Dunbar Schools,” and was a Board Member of the Earle Dunbar School Reunion Association, where she coordinated the 2019 Earle Dunbar School Reunion.
But Black History in Crittenden County is much more than “who” — there’s a “what” and a “why” to it as well. There’s a culture that expands beyond just the scope of history in the county and its communities. In part two of the Times’ salute to Black History Month, read about the contributions of those special individuals who helped shape history in music, sports and more.
In diverse fields, from music to medicine, education to farming, politics to sports, and art to community service, black Crittenden Countians have played many important roles in not only Black History but all of history. In this special two-part section, the Times highlights a handful of those who represented their race and their community here in Crittenden County and in many cases, well beyond its borders. Look for part two of this salute to Black History later this month in the Times.
–But Black History in Crittenden County is much more than “who” — there’s a “what” and a “why” to it as well. There’s a culture that expands beyond just the scope of history in the county and its communities.–