Emancipation Day Celebrations in Russellville
Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863 (after a preliminary notice in fall 1862) was a limited wartime measure, only declaring freedom for enslaved people held behind Confederate lines. Bondspeople could only make good on the policy if they could reach U. S. forces. For so many enslaved people in Texas, that hope did not arrive until Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger’s forces arrived in Galveston and declared freedom on June 19, 1865. The later ratification of the 13th amendment to the Constitution on December 6, 1865 officially disallowed chattel slavery throughout the U.S. Texans continued to cherish the June 19th date, and celebrated it annually in an event that came to be known as “Juneteenth.”
What about celebrations in Arkansas? The earliest emancipation celebrations found so far as reported in Arkansas’s newspapers (which were controlled by whites) is 1867. Celebrations certainly had existed before that. Arkansans actually came to celebrate emancipation THREE times a year—in January, June, and August. These became traditional celebrations specifically for emancipation, put on by Black Arkansans for Black Arkansans.
The January 1st emancipation celebrations commemorated the Emancipation Proclamation. This date held some special weight because for generations, January 1st was a deeply dreaded date by enslaved people. It was the date the most new labor contracts were set to begin. Therefore, enslaved people who were rented out had to depart on January 1st for their temporary home and work, and were subject to separation from family. January 1st was also the day that new overseers, who rarely stayed on the same place more than a few years, usually began their contracts. Enslaved people braced themselves to learn how brutal the newcomer might be. So to celebrate January 1st changed the tone of a historically horrifying date.
In addition to the January celebration date, the first week of August was a common date for Arkansans and other northerners to celebrate emancipation, to commemorate the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies on August 4th in 1834. Interracial groups of northern abolitionists had been celebrating this anniversary as early as 1836. After the Civil War, the practice spread. In fact, in 1885, according to the Russellville Democrat, African American residents celebrated emancipation on August 6th. The (white) newspaper calling it “the negro’s Fourth of July.” By celebrating an international emancipation day, Black Russellville residents linked their history to the global story of slavery and freedom.
What about Juneteenth? Many enslaved people from Arkansas had been forced to Texas during the Civil War, and would have taken the celebration back with them if/when they returned. The earliest June emancipation celebration found reported in the newspapers occurring in Arkansas is 1900. Thus, Arkansas’s black communities were celebrating it at least that early, and certainly earlier. The celebrations typically included a barbecue picnic, music, and often featured baseball games and other friendly competitions. The event also included programs of speeches and presentations, allowing Black Arkansans a relatively safe political platform during Jim Crow. The holiday was so important that many employers knew to reserve it as a day off. While turn-of-the-century Juneteenth celebrations in Russellville have not YET been identified, the newspaper clipping mentioned above shows that the August celebration was the norm here in that period. We know that railroad companies, looking to profit from the popularity of the June celebrations, offered special round-trip rates for travelers to Juneteenth celebrations. It is possible that early Russellville residents took advantage of the travel discounts to attend Juneteenth celebrations in larger towns like Fort Smith or Van Buren, Little Rock or Pine Bluff, before beginning their own Juneteenth tradition at home.
The above image shows Emancipation Day being celebrated on August 6, 1885, from the Russellville Democrat, July 23, 1885 p 3.
2023 Arkansas River Valley Black Hall of Fame
Geraldine Wilson is known in the River Valley community as being instrumental in Prison Ministry, mentor for young people through her church ministries. She is a member of New Prospect Baptist Church in Russellville – a past president of the Antioch District Mission, a former teacher of the Young Men’s class, sang in the choir as well as the secretary. Was a president of the Church Women United for many years and has attended State Assemblies. She spends her current days writing and clipping coupons and news articles.
Geraldine was a dedicated wife of the late Charles Samuel Wilson, their four children and a host of grand and great grandchildren. She continues today to be a predominate role model to the upcoming generations. When she has an opportunity, she speaks spiritual words to the youth and adults in leadership roles. She supports all faiths working together and has shown leadership, dedication and generosity.
Dr. Norman Harold McGill
Robert Woods’ hall of fame accomplishments transcend softball. A devoted husband and father of four, the Dardanelle native paved a legacy of sport and family. For more than forty years, Robert could be found playing and officiating softball across the state. His regard and love for the game earned him acclaim as one of the sport’s most respected figures. An accomplished athlete, Robert began his journey by shattering track records before joining the highly regarded Dardanelle Blacks softball team in the 1970’s. By 1997, Robert had fully transitioned into officiating, earning a reputation as one of Arkansas’ best umpires.
Beyond the diamond, Robert is dedicated to his wife of four decades, their four children and two grandchildren. An active member of Unity Missionary Baptist Church, he is revered in his community for his countless hours of volunteer work with local students, adored by his children and grandchildren, and elevated in the Arkansas softball world as one of the greatest to ever call a game. Robert Woods’ legacy will be that of a giant as a family man, a neighbor and an umpire. A hall of famer.
2022 Arkansas River Valley Black Hall of Fame
The Rev. S.D. Mitchell, of Russellville, went home to glory, on March 8, 2013, at Baptist Medical Center in Little Rock surrounded by his loving family.
Born on Aug. 18, 1935, at Eudora, Ark., to Daniel Mitchell and Classie Johnson Mitchell, and was reared by Agnes Mitchell.
S.D.'s brother, Ivory, taught him the trade of Brick Masonry, later resulting in the formation of Mitchell Brothers Construction, now known as Mitchell Masonry. This trait he shared with many young men in the River Valley area as a teacher, mentor, father figure and friend. His handy work can be seen from McDonald's across Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. After over forty years of working as a masonry contractor, he semi-retired in 2010, leaving his legacy of leadership to his son, Dale Mitchell.
During a revival at the Russellville Church of God in Christ, S.D. made a commitment to the Lord and soon he felt a call to the ministry. Elder S.D. Mitchell was ordained in the Church of God in Christ in 1974 under the leadership of Bishop D. L. Lindsey and was appointed the Pastor of the Caney Church of God in Christ in 1975 which was later renamed Sinai Church of God in Christ in Conway.
He was appointed in 2010 as the District Superintendent of the Conway District, Regional Coordinator of Region One and in 2011 he was appointed as 2nd Jurisdiction of Arkansas Church Trustee.
Patricia Ann Meekins Collins
Hometown: Smackover, AR
Education: High School - Booker T. Washington, El Dorado, AR
Colleges: Arkansas Tech University - Bachelor of Science, Degree in Biology and Chemistry
University of Central Arkansas - Masters Degree in Educational Leadership
Employment: Gardner Junior High/Science Teacher for 18 years
Russellville Adult Education Center - Director for 17 years (Retired 2012)
Family: Sabrina Ann Isbell (daughter), Colby Alvertis Isbell (grandson)
Church affiliation: Holy Trinity Lutheran - Rogers, AR
Volunteer activity: Bible Study Fellowship Group Leader
Residence: Bentonville, AR
Robert Brockman Sr. of Russellville, Arkansas was a master plumber, master electrician, heating and air specialist, and building contractor. He worked hard to find success as a businessman in these trades and was certified by the Better Business Bureau, as well as a member of the Russellville Area Chamber of Commerce.
Robert was a devout Christian and member of the Lane Chapel Methodist Church. He also was a PHA mason with the New Parrell Lodge #77 and served on the Russellville Planning Committee.
His dedication to his community, family, church, and customers had a lasting impact on the Arkansas River Valley.
2021 Arkansas River Valley Black Hall of Fame
Mrs. Lackey was born Barbara Jo Enoch to William Joe and Josephine Moore-Enoch on May 27, 1942 in Russellville, AR.
After attending first grade at James School in Russellville, she moved with her parents to Little Rock. Mrs. Lackey loved Russellville (and Dardanelle) so much that she returned for every Summer vacation to spend time with her friends and grandparents.
In 1957, Mrs. Lackey entered high school at Horace Mann High School in Little Rock, but at the beginning of her Junior year, Orville Faubus closed Little Rock Schools in order to prevent desegregation. She attended Chicot County High School in Dermott, AR her Junior year and returned to Little Rock her Senior year to graduate from Horace Mann in 1960.
Mrs. Lackey began her college career at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. During her sophomore year, she married her sweetheart from Fayetteville, Billy Ray Lackey. Mr. Lackey deployed shortly afterward to Italy for a year with the United States Air Force. While gone, Mrs. Lackey transferred to Arkansas Tech to be near family while completing her studies. Upon Mr. Lackey’s return from Italy, and a brief break to begin building their family while stationed at Lackland Air Force Base, Mrs. Lackey returned to Arkansas Tech, and in 1968 she became one of the first black students to graduate from Arkansas Tech University.
With her degree in Sociology, Mrs. Lackey has gone on to hold several positions that have offered her the opportunity to live out her passion---helping others; none of which she loved and cherished more than her job as Social Worker with the Russellville School District.
Mrs. Lackey is known to be very resourceful, and she has always found her greatest joy in helping children and families. If there’s a need, she will find a way to fill it, not stopping until she does.
Mrs. Lackey now enjoys retirement while spending time with her 2 daughters and 3 grandchildren, all the while keeping an eye out for the opportunity to help someone in need.
Tyrone Williamson was a lifelong resident of Russellville, AR. He was a loving son, a devoted husband, father, and man of God.
He was raised by his parents L.V. and Elizabeth Williamson. As a child Tyrone and his siblings learned the cleaning business from their dad who owned and operated Williamson and Sons Janitorial Service, which was one of the first Black owned businesses in the city of Russellville.
Tyrone was a dedicated leader in the River Valley community. His accomplishments include: President of the Russellville chapter of the Jaycees, Russellville City Constable, Employee for Arkansas Power & Light and Entergy, Owner of the Tyrone Williamson Cleaning Service, Coach for adult and youth softball and basketball teams thru the Boys & Girls Club, Member of the River Valley Progressive Mens Club, Associate Minister of New Prospect Missionary Baptist Church, Substitute teacher in the Russellville School district, Board member of the Salvation Army, Board member of ARVAC, First African American to service as alderman on the Russellville City Council, and he was the First African American elected Mayor of the City of Russellville.
Tyrone Williamson dedicated most of his life to serving his church, his family, and our community. He saw himself as a voice for the people of Russellville - always focusing on opportunities for our residents and future generations.
Mr Randall Hendrix was born in Russellville, Arkansas on October 4th, 1909.
He worked for Missouri Pacific Railroad for over 35 years, and as a coal miner. Later in life, he served as the nightwatchman for the Russellville housing authority at Glenwood house. At Glenwood he was a member of sovereign grand lodge, a free and accepted masons world chapter of Order of the Eastern Star. He was also a member of New Prospect Missionary Baptist Church where he served as a Deacon for over 50 years.
He was well known for his love for his community. He was a member of the urban renewal board which gave life to the James Park neighborhood. With the members of the neighborhood, he spearheaded the push for James Park which is now a thriving part of our community.
Mr. Hendrix was also a driving part in the preservation of the historic train depot located in downtown Russellville.
Randall Hendrix was 91 when he passed away on July 18th, 2001.