February 8, 2007 - Posted at 7:01 p.m. CST
JONESBORO, AR -- February is Black History month and the African American Cultural Center is celebrating with a new exhibit that honors those early black property owners in Craighead County. While African Americans have always been in the minority in Craighead County, their contributions are not to be discounted.
"From the 1800's, my father's uncle was the first black man in Jonesboro, to let's say the 1944, we were a proud and industrial people," said Harriett Turner.
Turner is a life long Jonesboro resident. She points out that over a century ago Craighead County was a supply community. So while many other black people in the region were working on farms, things here were different.
"So naturally you had to provide some other means of living. That made you, as I said before, entrepreneurs and skilled people," said Turner.
Because of this, the black residents in late 1800's to mid 1900's were ahead of their time because they owned property and businesses here in Craighead County.
"Very little education, very little money and it was a struggle for them to want to possess something," said African American Cultural Center Volunteer Robbie Lyle.
While most of those early black businesses are long gone, there are still a few reminders around town. For example an early grocery store was frequented by a number of residents in north Jonesboro.
In addition to being forward thinking business people, those early black residents saw the importance of education.
"One of the reasons that we were ahead of the time was Jonesboro had the first black high school in the state of Arkansas," said Turner.
In fact Jonesboro was known across the country as a progressive community. Some families sent their children to attend Booker T. Washington High School from as far away as Cleveland, Ohio.