Black community leaders honored in Arkadelphia

Arkadelphia Town Hall was packed Monday morning as more than 75 people filed into the atrium to honor the inaugural class of Black History Month honorees.

A nominating committee consisting of Dr. Kenneth Harris, Dr. Patricia Wright, Dr. Lewis Shepeherd and Rev. Llewellyn Terry named the inaugural class of 12 honorees whose likenesses will be on banners displayed in downtown Arkadelphia. The banners, on Main Street, will be on display through March 1.

John Edward Peake

Born in 1851, John Edward Peake was a well known educator in Arkansas. He spent more than 30 years as an educator, and following his death in 1906 his survivors sold land to Arkadelphia Public Schools with the agreement that the land would be used for school buildings and retain the Peake name, a promise that has been kept for more than a century.

Arkadelphia school board member Ida Tramble accepts a portrait of John Ed Peake from Vice Mayor Roland Gosey. | Joel Phelps/The Arkadelphian

Ann Sanders

Ann Sanders was the first black female to serve on the Arkadelphia City Board of Directors, and was “instrumental” in serving her community in the aftermath of the 1997 tornado as she coordinated with media and helped those affected. Following her retirement from public service, Sanders split her time between Arkadelphia and her second home in Chicago until her passing in 2020.

Surviving relatives of Ann Sanders accept a portrait of the late trailblazer.

A. William Terry

The Rev. A. William Terry was an Arkadelphia pastor who, along with five other Arkadelphians, marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in his March on Selma. The community activist was the founder of Mt. Olive Baptist Church and spearheaded the annual Marade ceremonies more than three decades ago.

An emotional Romanetha Terry accepts a portrait of her late husband, the late Rev. A. William Terry, as her son Llewellyn Terry, left, looks on.

Eula Thomas

An Arkadelphia business owner, Eula Thomas was the first black member of the Arkadelphia Chamber of Commerce. member. She was also an educator and administrator at Henderson State University.

James Williams

A veteran of the U.S. military and director of Williams Funeral Home, James Williams was the first black mayor of the City of Arkadelphia. He served two terms as mayor beginning in 1985.

Surviving relatives of James Williams accept a portrait of the late business owner.

Carolyn Green

In 1964 the Ouachita Baptist University Board of Trustees adopted a resolution barring the denial of students based on race or creed or national origin. Carolyn Green immediately transferred from the school across the ravine to become Ouachita’s first black student under the new rule, and would make history again two years later when she became the first black graduate of OBU. After earning a degree in political science, Green would go on to become a flight attendant for American Airlines, retiring in 2009 after a 43-year career.

Carolyn Green’s surviving relatives accept a portrait.

Maurice Horton Sr.

Maurice Horton Sr. transferred from what is now University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff to enroll in 1955 as the first black student of Henderson Teachers College, where he would graduate two years later. Horton spent his career teaching math and science to high school students in both Arkadelphia and Pine Bluff before his retirement. Following his retirement, Horton would go on to be instrumental in securing funding for the Rosenwald building on Peake’s campus.

Maurice Horton’s surviving relatives accept a portrait of the late educator.

Henry Wilson

A native of Clark County and 1950 graduate of Peake High School, Henry Wilson returned to his hometown in 1989 after serving in the U.S. Navy and a 37-year career working in shipyards in California. Wilson worked for Arkadelphia Public Schools throughout the 1990s and was a longtime president of the Clark County NAACP. He retired from public service in 2019.

Jacqueline Wilson accepts a portrait of her late husband, Henry Wilson.

James Middleton

Sgt. James Middleton served the residents of Arkadelphia as the city’s first black police officer in 1968. Middleton was also the first black sergeant at the Arkadelphia Police Department. During his 25-year career, “Sarge” was received national recognition twice — once for his involvement in a vehicular assault, and again for stopping a bank robbery.

The family of the late Sgt. James Middleton accepts a portrait.

Mary Nell Clay

Following a career that specialized in special education, Mary Nell Clay made local history when, in 1999, she became the first black female school principal, at Central Primary School. Clay retired in 2008 after 34 years of service to the Arkadelphia Public School District.

A surviving relative accepts a portrait of the late Mary Nell Clay.

Martha Dixon

Fashionista Martha Dixon was the designer of gowns worn by former First Lady Hillary Clinton at inaugural events. She also founded her own company, Dixon Manufacturing, which produced uniforms and secured big-name clients like Tyson Foods until a 2006 fire claimed her brick-and-mortar business. In 2011 Dixon published her autobiography, Triumph Beyond Imagination, and she still consults with young people aspiring to become entrepreneurs. Dixon was unable to attend Monday’s ceremony.

Terry Nelson

Towering above most of his peers, the 6-foot-2 Terry Nelson graduated from Peake High School to play as tight end at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff before he was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in 1973 to become the first NFL player from Arkadelphia. Nelson played eight seasons for the Rams and was a starter in Super Bowl XIV.

Donning a belt buckle that reads LA RAMS ’83, Terry Nelson accepts his portrait from Arkadelphia Mayor Scott Byrd.

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  1. Mary Hill (Mrs. Omon Hill) was another who quietly and tirelessly contributed much to the Arkadelphia community through church, as school secretary, her family, and a major friend and supporter of young people.