LR Women Making History – Ellen Turner Carpenter

Ellen Turner Carpenter was born on July 30, 1916 on West Ninth Street.  At the time of her death at the age of 93, her life had come full circle.

As a young girl, she was an active participant in the thriving African American life along west Ninth Street in downtown Little Rock. She attended many events at the Mosaic Templars Hall which sat at Ninth and Broadway.

A longtime Little Rock educator, she became the moving force behind preserving the Mosaic Templars building in the 1980s.   In 1992, she became president of the Mosaic Templars Building Preservation Society, which worked to preserve the Mosaic Templars building in Little Rock to create a museum for black history in Arkansas. Mrs. Carpenter served as president of the society until her death.

In the 1990s, the City of Little Rock purchased the building to keep it stable while the Preservation Society sought to raise the funds.  Due to lobbying efforts led by Mrs. Carpenter, the State of Arkansas purchased the building from the City with the intention of turning it into a museum under the auspices of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.  At a ceremony in 2003, Vice Mayor Willie Hinton handed the keys of the building to Governor Mike Huckabee with Mrs. Carpenter nearby beaming.  Governor Huckabee appointed her to the state advisory committee for this new museum.  She would serve as chair of that committee.

On March 16, 2005, tragedy struck.  The building burned to the ground.  That afternoon at a press conference at the State Capitol, leaders expressed their resolve that the project would move forward with a new building following the original design.  One of the speakers that afternoon was Mrs. Carpenter. She started out in her usual quiet voice. But as she recalled her youth spent at the Mosaic Templar’s building, the years melted away. She demonstrated some of the step dancing she had done as a teenager.

On September 20, 2008, she presided over the grand opening of the new Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. It was the culmination of 15 years of official work and many more years of dreaming.  At the ceremonies, she declared “We made it!” “We made it! We made it!”

Mrs. Carpenter remained an active supporter of the MTCC until her death on July 27, 2010, just three days shy of her 94th birthday.

Throughout her life she wore many hats (including numerous ones to church on Sunday). She was an educator, neighborhood organizer, and public servant. Everyone who met her was positively impacted by her.  Due to her vision and endurance, thousands each year are still positively impacted by her when they visit the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center.  Fittingly, the conference room at MTCC is named in her memory.


2 thoughts on “LR Women Making History – Ellen Turner Carpenter

  1. Thank you so much for highlighting my grandmother, Ellen T. Carpenter for Women’s History Month. She loved the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center with her heart and soul. The family was so happy that she lived long enough to see it open, and that she was able to cut the ribbon. She was truly a Renaissance spirit, and she is greatly missed!

    Gisele Hudson

  2. I truly miss Mrs. Carpenter’s leadership of the Mosaic Templar’s Building Preservation Society. She had the gentle spirit of a caring Mother, the tenacity of a protective Warrior and the wisdom of a village Griot. She also understood the trials and challenges of her generation, and those that followed and understood why contributions of African Americans to the History of Arkansas is necessary and of value to everyone. She is a classic example of a woman who carried her own baggage well but who also carried the baggage of her community to the very end.

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