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PAAC reveals Arkansas’s African American history



Little Rock, Arkansas – Via the Project the 365 Projects, The Preservation of African American Cemetery organized the Cemeteries Uncover the Early Black Communities event in collaboration with the Arkansas Humanities Council and local leaders.

The African American legacy of six Arkansas cities along Highway 365 is being preserved through project 365. To share the results of their research, this weekend’s gathering was arranged.

“The six communities that we are researching is Hensley, Woodson, Wrightsville, Higgins, Sweet Home and College Station and all the little towns in between,” Preservation of African American Cemeteries, President/Co-Founder, Tamala Tenpenny Lewis said.

To learn more about the lives of those who came before us, a 12-person research team from the Afro-American Historical Genealogical Society and the Preservation of African American Cemeteries has been studying church, neighborhood, and family history in these communities for a year.

“So what has happened is over the last year, we’ve been working on this research project where we’ve been collecting documents, photographs, any type of information that we can to help us identify individuals within the community, their families… How many generations they’ve been here? Where did the families come from? How long have they been here, have they migrated to other areas,” Tenpenny Lewis said.

Throughout the course of the two days at the Wrightsville Civic Center, stories and documents that had been hidden were made public.

The intention, according to those who write these histories, is for young people to understand the importance of the people who came before them and the contributions they made.

Project Director Ruth Hill, who is also the town’s oldest resident, expressed her opinion.

“It’s important for your self-esteem to know that you’re valued… That you have value,” Hill said, “Every race is valuable and when you look at it you’ll find… Every race is creative. Every race is ambitious,” she added.

The ceremony began with an opening prayer spoken by Mayor Derrick Rainey, and it concluded with tributes to prominent members of the community.

Tamala Tenpenny Lewis, the president of PAAC and a Wrightsville native, discussed the relevance of Project 365.

“It’s important to know who you are. It’s important to know how you were shaped and formed. It’s important to know the trials and tribulations of those that came before you, to make your life the way it is now. It’s just important to know your history,” Tenpenny Lewis said.

The Arkansas Humanities Council’s Black History and Culture funds, which are available year-round for non-profits devoted to studying, conserving, and documenting African American history, were instrumental in making the project possible.

According to Tenpenny Lewis, they intend to keep documenting and teaching communities about early African American history for as long as they can.

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