Black History Month Spotlight – Mosaic Templars of America

The new Arkansas Civil Rights History Audio Tour was launched in November 2015. Produced by the City of Little Rock and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock allows the many places and stories of the City’s Civil Rights history to come to life an interactive tour.  This month, during Black History Month, the Culture Vulture looks at some of the stops on this tour which focus on African American history.

The Mosaic Templars of America was formed as a business in the late 1870s by Arkansas freedmen John E. Bush and Chester W. Keatts to provide insurance and other services to black people, and was incorporated as a fraternal organization in 1882. The Mosaic Templars name was derived from the biblical Moses who led his people out of bondage and relates to black America’s journey out of slavery.

By the 1920s the Templars’ organization extended to 26 states and six Caribbean nations. At the time, as one of the largest black-owned business enterprises in the world, Templars’ holdings included the original insurance company, a building and loan association, a publishing company, a business college, a nursing school and a hospital. For more than 40 years, the Templars Headquarters Building and the adjoining Annex and State Temple buildings on Broadway anchored the city’s black business district on West Ninth Street. Like many businesses, black and white, the Templars did not survive the era of the Great Depression.

Though the original Headquarters building burned in 2005, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center is modeled on the original design. Exhibits highlight black business and self-achievement from Reconstruction to the 1950s in Arkansas and the nation.

The app, funded by a generous grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council, was a collaboration among UALR’s Institute on Race and Ethnicity, the City of Little Rock, the Mayor’s Tourism Commission, and KUAR, UALR’s public radio station, with assistance from the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.