African-American Heritage Trail in Arkansas

by Gail Sessoms
The Arkansas African-American Heritage Trail runs along the Mississippi River.

The Arkansas African-American Heritage Trail runs along the Mississippi River.

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The African-American Heritage Trail in Arkansas identifies people, places and events that represent the experiences and contributions of black people in the Arkansas Delta Region. The geography, history and culture of the region are inseparable from the experiences of its black residents. Arkansas' African-American Heritage Trail provides glimpses into all aspects of those experiences.

The Arkansas Delta Region

The Arkansas Delta Region includes 15 counties scattered throughout the swamps and bayous near the Mississippi River, a location that colors its agriculture, music and food. The region is rich in Civil War history and was significant during the civil rights era. The area includes wildlife refuges, national forests, state parks, museums and historical structures listed on the National Historic Register. Much of its well-preserved history chronicles the region's African-American heritage.

The African-American Heritage Trail

Arkansas Delta Byways (deltabyways.com) promotes the African-American Heritage Trail. The organization promises an experience that includes the places that embody black heritage in the region. Because much of the African-American heritage is not tied to structures, Arkansas Delta Byways describes the trail as a sensory experience providing exposure to music, land and food that summon a complex history of slavery, suppression and survival. The trail encompasses a broad range of experiences that are representative of the cumulative experiences of African-Americans in the region.

Cemeteries and Monuments

Judd Hill Plantation Cemetery includes a restored black cemetery that hosts annual reunions. In the 1930s, 68 black families lived on and worked plots of the plantation, according to the plantation's foundation. Magnolia Cemetery, built in 1850, includes the graves of early black legislators, notes Arkansas Delta Byways. Paradise Gardens Cemetery is the burial site of blues musician Albert King, who is said to have inspired Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and others. The burial place of former slave George Berry Washington, one of the largest landowners in his county when he died, is a National Register structure known as Angel in the Field. The structure comprised a large statue and a wall as a monument to Washington.

Towns and Travel

Lake View is a town created during the Depression era by the federal government's Resettlement Authority as a colony to resettle black farming families. Anthonyville began as a black neighborhood and grew into a town founded by a black family, according to Arkansas Delta Byways. The Blytheville Greyhound Bus Station continues to display its "colored" waiting room signs. The segregated station is significant to the massive black migration from Arkansas when people sought better lives in the North.

Other Attractions

The Arkansas African-American Heritage Trail includes Twist, a juke joint where B.B. King is said to have written his famous song "Lucille." The trail also includes the Lakeport Plantation, Rosenwald schools and Elaine, which was the site of race riots in 1919. The heritage trail includes museums, churches and the Delta Cultural Center located in West Helena. The cultural center offers tours and exhibits highlighting the region's art, food and music.

Visiting

The Arkansas African-American Heritage Trail is not a formal, guided tour. The Arkansas Delta Byways organization provides maps and other resources to help tourists locate the stops on the trail. Some locations require people to call and arrange a time to visit, though managers may be willing to open for even a lone visitor. Other sites publish hours of operation, and some are seasonal. Arkansas Delta Byways recommends persistence when trying to contact the locations on the trail. Brochures are available for download on the Arkansas Delta Byways website.

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