Josephine Pankey was a real estate developer at a time that few women or few African American men were engaged in that profession. The fact that she was an African American woman who was developing real estate made her efforts even more remarkable.
Born in Cleveland OH in 1869, she was educated at Oberlin College. She moved to Arkansas to serve as a teacher for the African Methodist Episcopal church, first in DeValls Bluff and later in Pine Bluff. While in the former, she married Eugene Harris. After three years, the couple divorced.
In Pine Bluff, she met Samuel Pankey, a widowed postal worker with seven children. They married in 1904 and moved to Little Rock soon after because they felt it offered opportunities for their interest in real estate development.
Because of Little Rock’s restrictive Jim Crow era covenants which limited where African Americans could live or own property, Josephine Pankey decided to buy and develop land outside of the city limits. In 1907, she purchased 80 acres approximately 13 miles west of Little Rock for $400. Over the next several years, she purchased several more parcels of land which she platted and developed. Working with Worthen Bank, she started arranging loans for her buyers.
In addition, she established schools and libraries for African Americans in Little Rock. She was also active in the USO and YWCA. In the 1950s, the Pulaski County Special School District built a school on land she donated in the community which bore her name.
Though her husband died in 1937, Josephine Pankey continued her real estate development until 1947, when she officially retired. She died in 1954 and is buried at Oakland-Fraternal Historic Cemetery.
The community which bears her name still exists, though now it is within the Little Rock city limits. A police substation and community center bears her name. In 2017, she was honored with inclusion in the UA Little Rock Anderson Institute on Race & Ethnicity’s Civil Rights Heritage Trail.