Little Rock Look Back: First Little Rock High School graduation

The Sherman School at 7th and Sherman Streets, which contained Little Rock’s first high school. It is now the site of the Kramer School apartments.

On June 13, 1873, the first Little Rock High School graduation ceremony took place. Newspaper accounts do not indicate how many were in the class.

The ceremony took place at the Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church, North, which was located on Main Street in the 400 block.  (Part of the Little Rock Technology Park is now on a portion of that site.)

Miss Eva K. Smith, the class Salutatorian was unable to attend and bring opening remarks due to illness.  However, several other speeches by students were given including “Earth’s Battlefields” by Mattie A. Chrisman, “Arkansas, Her Past and Future” by Marcus Mentzer, “Turning the Leaves” by Mary W. Smith, and “Water” by Ella Wood.  Mr. Mentzer also delivered a valedictory address which was praised by those in attendance, according to newspaper accounts.

School Board President Frederick Kramer also made remarks as did the school’s principal, Mr. Helm, and General A. W. Bishop.  Mr. Kramer also passed out the diplomas.

While education opportunities had been offered in Little Rock since the 1820s, these had been with private tutors or private academies.  A one room public school was created in the 1850s and governed by the City of Little Rock. No records exist of anyone graduating from that school.  In February 1869, the Arkansas General Assembly authorized the creation of school districts in cities as separate entities.  Little Rock voters approved the establishment of a Little Rock public school system.  Classes began in the autumn of 1869.

The Sherman School was originally built as one of Little Rock’s elementary schools but also contained the first high school classes.  In 1885, high school classes moved to 14th and Scott Streets to the Scott Street School. In 1890, they moved to the Peabody School at Capitol and Gaines Streets where they were located until the new Little Rock High School opened in 1905. This building was constructed on the site of the old Scott Street School. Today it is the East Side lofts. It served as Little Rock High School until 1927 when what is now Little Rock Central High School opened.

In the 1860s and 1870s, African American students studied at Capitol Hill and Union schools, which both contained elementary and secondary classes. By the early 1900s, Gibbs High School had opened as a new elementary and secondary school for African American students. It would serve as the City’s African American high school until Dunbar opened in 1929.

Final Dunbar High School Graduation – May 27, 1955

On May 27, 1955, on the stage of Robinson Auditorium, the Dunbar High School senior class graduated. This academic year marked not only the 25th anniversary of Dunbar’s opening, but it was the last year that the school building would offer junior high through junior college classes.

In the fall of 1955, the new Horace Mann High School would open. Dunbar would continue to be open, but only as a junior high.  (Though no reason was ever publicly given, the junior college component ended in May 1955.)

The new Mann High School was constructed, in part, as a way to delay any integration plans for the Little Rock School District.  With a new second all-white high school in the works for Little Rock, it was thought that a new African American school would placate the African-American community by not only giving them a new building, but relieving the overcrowding at Dunbar.

But on May 27, 1955, and the days leading up to it, the focus was on celebrating the final graduation class and the 25th anniversary of Dunbar High School.  On May 25, teachers who had taught for 25 years at the school, and original teachers who retired from the school were honored.

The school’s original principal, Dr. John H. Lewis, was the commencement speaker.  The current principal, Dr. L. W. Christophe presided over the awarding of the diplomas and announcements of scholarships.  Among the higher education institutions to which they received scholarships were the University of Michigan, Wiley College, Tennessee State, Arkansas AM&N, Talladega College, and Philander Smith College.

While the Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Democrat  both DID run stories on the graduation, it was hardly equal to the coverage they gave Central High School.  In fact, on the day after Dunbar’s graduation, the Democrat ran a photo of two Central graduates huddled under an umbrella in the rain – three days after the ceremony took place.

In 1971, Mann ceased its status as a high school as well.  Today, both Mann and Dunbar serve as middle schools within the Little Rock School District.

Women Making History: Charlotte Stephens

Charlotte Andrews Stephens was the first African American teacher in the Little Rock School District.  Between 1910 and 1912, when an elementary school for African Americans was named after her, she became the first woman to have a public building in Little Rock named after her.  For nearly fifty years, Stephens Elementary (which is now in its third building) would be the only LRSD building named after a woman.

Born into slavery, Charlotte Stephens was educated first by her father who ran a private school in what is now Wesley Chapel UMC.  At the age of 15, she started teaching at the Union School to finish out the term of a white teacher who had become ill.  She taught for 70 years, retiring at age 85 in 1939.

From 1870 to 1873, she attended college at Oberlin College, though not always every semester. (It is possible she was the first African American woman from Arkansas to attend college, but that cannot be verified.)  During her career with the LRSD, she taught students in all grades. She was twice principal of Capitol Hill School, and later headed the high school Latin Department.  At the time of her retirement, she was librarian of Dunbar High School.

The land on which Stephens Elementary now sits was once owned by Charlotte Stephens.  She donated the land and attended the 1950 dedication of the second Stephens Elementary.  That building was torn down in 1994 to make way for the current Stephens Elementary.  Some of her grandchildren attended the dedication of the new and current Stephens Elementary.

Annual LRSD Artistry in the Rock runs from March 12 to 15

The Little Rock School District’s annual celebration of the arts in the schools, Artistry in the Rock starts today and runs through Friday, March 15.

It is in a new location this year: Arkansas State Fairgrounds Hall of Industry Building.

A celebration and showcase of LRSD student talent in the performing & visual arts. FREE and Open to the Public!

Tuesday, March 12 (MORNING)
9:30 Western Hills Eagle Band
9:45 Fulbright Pop Choir
10:00 PVMS Treble Choir
10:20 Terry Orff Skit
10:35 Central Madrigals
11:00 Washington Drumming
11:15 PVMS Concert Band
11:35 Parkview Girl’s Chorus and Piano students
12:05 Parkview Jazz Band

Wednesday, March 13 (MORNING)
9:30 Rockefeller Drum and Dance
9:50 Chicot Choir
10:05 FHSA Concert Band
10:35 FHSA World Music
10:55 Gibbs Orff
11:10 JA Fair Drama
11:25 PVMS Mixed Choir
11:40 DMMS Jazz Band

Thursday, March 14 (MORNING)
9:30 Booker Afro-Cuban Drum and Dance
10:00 HMMS Choir
10:30 Dodd Recorder Ensemble
10:45 PHMS Choir
11:10 Central Musical Theatre
11:40 Jazz Central

Thursday, March 14 (EVENING)
6:00 Voices Without Borders, an elementary honor ensemble
6:30 Awards Presentations
7:00 All-City Middle School Band
7:45 All-City High School Band

Friday, March 15 (MORNING)
9:30 Mabelvale Drum and Groove
10:00 Meadowcliff Singers
10:20 HMMS Concert Band
10:50 FHSA Choir
11:15 Otter Creek
11:35 McClellan Choir

Little Rock Look Forward: Happy Birthday Annie Abrams

September 25 is the birthday of Annie Mable McDaniel Abrams.

Miss Annie or Mother Abrams or Mrs. Abrams.  Whatever you call her, she greets you with a smile, a hug, and sage advice.

As both a historian and a futurist, she has turned her house into a museum and library. As a writer and preservationist, she has worked to document history and ensure historical properties and neighborhoods will long remain in Little Rock.

Born in Arkadelphia, she moved to Little Rock at age 13 to attend Dunbar Junior High School and High School.  She studied education at Dunbar Junior College and later taught in Marianna. In 1956, she returned to Little Rock to work for the Arkansas Teachers Association.  After her return to the capital city, she married Orville Abrams.  In addition to raising her four children, Miss Annie has helped raise countless others through her advice, support, love, and sometimes strong admonitions.  She also found time to return to school and receive a degree from Philander Smith College.

Among her many accomplishments are leading efforts to rename High Street for Martin Luther King, 14th Street for Daisy L. Gatson Bates and 20th Street for Charles Bussey.  Through her community activities, she had worked closely with both Bates and Bussey.  She was a friend to the Little Rock Nine (who were only a few years younger than she) and to their families. Perhaps, because she has been a personal friend of many Arkansas and national politicians over the past 60 years, it should come as no surprise that she and her husband were also acquainted with Governor Faubus.

Whether a leading political figure or a small child, Miss Annie isn’t afraid to give advice or to share her love.  Once an educator, always an educator, she loves to learn and teach. It is rare for her to miss a speech at the Clinton School or a Political Animals Club meeting.  (She is the Helen Thomas of the Political Animals Club — always given the first question when she is present.)

In recognition of all her efforts she has been recognized with an honorary doctorate from Philander Smith College, the Brooks Hays Award, and an award award from the national Martin Luther King Jr. Commission.  In 2010, she was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

Commemorate Juneteenth today at Mosaic Templars Cultural Center

Each year the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center hosts a free community Juneteenth festival as a celebration of African American freedom and achievement. This year’s event takes place today from 12 noon until 6pm.

Juneteenth is the oldest national commemoration of its kind, dating back to 1865.

Among  the musicians scheduled to perform at this year’s free Juneteenth celebration are  GRAMMY-nominated recording artist Shanice, Sir the Baptist and special host Larry Dodson of the Bar Kays.

The event will be emceed and co-hosted by Keef Glason of Power 92 FM. Local performers will include 2017 Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase winner Dazz & Brie, ZaeHD, Chris James and Ron Mac, Big Piph and Tomorrow Maybe, Big John Miller Band, Gold and Glitz, Dunbar Middle School Choir and Mabelvale Drum Line.

In addition, other activities will be happening throughout the day, including vendors, food trucks, living history characters and film screenings. A screening of the documentary “Dreamland” will air at 1 p.m. and “Soul Food Junkies” will air at 3 p.m.

A kids zone will feature face painting, a video game truck, laser tag, rock climbing wall, water tinkering station and more!

Visitors are also invited to learn more about Arkansas history through the African American lens while exploring MTCC’s exhibits, including the new display, “Don’t Touch My Crown,” which opened June 14 and examines the role of hair in how African Americans define themselves and are defined by others, from the late 19th century to the present.

Seating at the performance stage is limited; attendees are invited to bring their own chairs and blankets.

MTCC is located at 501 W. Ninth St, Little Rock, AR 72201. For more information, please call (501) 683-3593 or email info@mosaictemplarscenter.com.

MTCC is an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.