Black History Month Spotlight – Philander Smith College

reynoldslibraryphilandersmithThe 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.

Philander Smith College is Little Rock’s oldest historically black educational institution. It was established in 1877 as Walden Seminary, by the African Methodist Episcopal Church to educate ministers. Its name changed after an endowment in 1882 by the widow of Illinois philanthropist Philander Smith. Wesley Chapel has always been associated with the college’s activities. The enslaved William Wallace Andrews founded Wesley in 1854 on land donated by his owner, U.S. Senator Chester Ashley. In 1864, parishioners celebrated their freedom with a “Parade of Emancipation.”

Pastors at Wesley included Rev. J. C. Crenchaw, president of the Little Rock NAACP, and Rev. Negail Riley, leader of the Black United Fund. In the 1960’s, Philander Smith students participated in “sit-ins” at downtown lunch counters.

Noted alumni include Dr. Joycelyn Elders, former U.S. surgeon general; professional athletes Elijah Pitts of the Green Bay Packers; Hubert “Geese” Ausbie of the Harlem Globetrotters; and Milton Pitts Crenchaw, a Tuskeegee Airman; James Hal Cone, a pioneer of black liberation theology; Lottie Shackelford, former Mayor of Little Rock; Al Bell, founder of Stax Records and former president of Motown Records; and Stephanie Flowers, Arkansas State Senator.

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

2015 In Memoriam – Milton Crenchaw

1515 Crenchaw

In these final days of 2015, we pause to look back at 15 who influenced Little Rock’s cultural scene who left us in 2015.

Milton Pitts Crenchaw, was one of the first in the country to be trained by the federal government as a civilian licensed pilot. While an instructor at the Tuskegee Institute, he trained hundreds of cadet pilots and started the aviation program at Philander Smith College.

Crenchaw graduated from  Dunbar High School and attended Dunbar Junior College before enrolling at the Tuskegee Institute in 1939.  After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, his focus shifted from living the life of a normal college student to flying in the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP), sponsored by the Army Air Corps, and becoming a flight instructor.

Early in his career, Crenchaw worked as a civilian pilot training officer contracted by the military. Crenshaw instructed scores of pilots and cadets, including Judge Robert Decatur, Charles Flowers, Lieutenant Colonel Charles (Chuck) Dryden, Earl V. Stallcups, and fellow Arkansan Woodrow Crockett.  Crenchaw returned to Little Rock and taught aviation at Philander Smith from 1947 to 1953. He was also employed by the Central Flying Service and worked as a crop-duster in the central Arkansas and Delta regions.

Then he served as a flight instructor at several airbases from 1953 until 1972.   In 1972, with over 10,000 hours on record logged in the air, Crenchaw was signed on as an equal employment opportunity officer with the Department of Defense and as a race relations officer at Fort Stewart in Georgia until 1983.

Crenchaw was inducted into the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame in 1998. Nine years later, he was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.  He was also honored by Governor Mike Beebe in 2007 and the City of Little Rock in 2012.   On March 29, 2007, Crenchaw, along with the other members of the Tuskegee Airmen, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush in Washington DC.