New Museum Shows History of Local Union

October 6, 2006--Posted at 6:00 p.m. CDT

TRYRONZA, AR--Working for a better life for farm workers. That was the goal of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, one of the earliest U.S. labor organizations. Now, the history behind that historic organization is being remembered here in Northeast Arkansas.

For Samuel Mitchell the town of Tyronza is near and dear to his heart.

"My father started his union here, our family started here. My brother and sister went to school here," said Mitchell.

Mitchell's father was H.L. Mitchell, one of two men, who started the Southern Tenant Farmers Union to help farmers band together in a post depression ag economy.

"By the age of 15 I was in Searcy, Arkansas organizing strawberry farmers for my father," said Mitchell.

The union was ahead of it's time, because the organization brought people together, all fighting for better working conditions.

"It set the bar for organizing southern labor and organizing it in such a manner that black and whites came together," said Von Hawkins, author of the book "Plowing New Ground."

The STFU later moved to Memphis from Tyronza before fading in the 60's. However, its memory will not be forgotten with the opening of the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum, a museum that is unique to Northeast Arkansas.

"I assure you there is nothing like this," said Hawkins.

The museum takes about an hour to navigate and offers visitors a look into one of the events that shaped the civil rights movement.

"Some of the union's organizers learned how to do what they later did for civil rights, because of the folks in Tyronza," said Hawkins.

The museum is located in the same downtown Tyronza building where the STFU first organized. A building that brought together people no matter their age, sex, or color.

"In some ways it did more, it did something the civil rights movement didn't do, achieve economic justice," said Mitchell.

The museum is open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The cost of admission is a five dollar donation for adult's three dollars for kids.