The Fort Smith Museum of History's annual Black History Month Exhibit, "Bass Reeves and Fort Smith’s African-American History," will open in the Boyd Gallery on January 12, 2010, the one-hundredth anniversary of the death of the famous United States Marshal. Bass Reeves, legendary marshal under Judge Isaac C. Parker, was born a slave in Texas in 1838 and died in Muskogee, Oklahoma on January 12, 1910.
An opening reception will be held on Wednesday, January 13, 2010, at 5:00 pm followed by a lecture and book signing with author Art Burton at 6:00 pm.
As well as honoring Marshal Reeves, the exhibit traces black history in Fort Smith and the region from the founding of the first fort in 1817 to present day.
Through the exhibit meet prominent families and everyday people who were born, raised and lived in Fort Smith and had an impact on the history of the area.
Beginning with the four free black soldiers who were part of Major William Bradford’s elite rifle regiment to settle the first fort at Belle Pointe in 1817 the exhibit moves to the Civil War and the 11th United States Colored Infantry, which was established at Fort Smith in 1863, then to the end of the Civil War and the Freedman’s Bureau which was established in the Commissary Building of the second fort and is one of the few remaining buildings that housed a Freedman’s Bureau. Along with U. S. Marshal Bass Reeves, meet George Winston, a former slave who served as bailiff under three federal judges including Judge Parker.
Twentieth century Fort Smithians include Alphonso Trent, the celebrated jazz musician and orchestra leader. Trent’s orchestra broadcast from the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas on WFAA Radio Station, the first broadcast of this type for a black orchestra. Alphonso Trent returned to Fort Smith after his retirement and operated Trent’s Fountainette for many years. Rudy Ray Moore, another famous Fort Smithian, is known for his stand-up comedy and the well-known 1975 cult film, “Dolemite.”
During the early to mid-twentieth century, a thriving business community operated on North Ninth Street. Businesses included cafes, drug stores, dance halls, boarding houses and a mortuary. Famous musicians Ike and Tina Turner, James Brown, Ray Charles and B. B. King are said to have performed in Ninth Street establishments.
Local black policemen Stacy Hardwick, George Willis, Leland Longley, Lawrence Tidwell and Alvin Bradley are all featured in the exhibit. Officer Bradley also formed the Lincoln Youth Center in 1971 and remains the director today. Officer Tidwell formed the Lincoln High School Alumni Association which continues to hold reunions annually. Bert Stewart Haircutting and Beauty Parlor is featured with photographs of the business which operated from the 1920’s through the 1980’s. Learn the stories of prominent Fort Smithians A. J. Parish, Charolette Tidwell, Isabella Bass, Ocie Payne and Arthur Lee Kirksey. Mr. Kirksey formed the first branch of the NAACP in Fort Smith.
Learn about Lincoln High School, 1892-1966, and all the influential teachers who are fondly remembered. St. John’s Catholic School also holds many memories for local residents as well as Howard Elementary School, all addressed in the exhibit.
The fascinating story of the Price-Wilson family is traced from the plantations in Tennessee and Mississippi, where the patriarch and matriarch of the family were born slaves, to their arrival in Fort Smith in the late nineteenth century, to the family of Leland Longley. Many of the family are still in Fort Smith today along with the family home filled with priceless memories.
The exhibit will reveal the fascinating history of these and many more members of the black community in Fort Smith. Residents who have memories, stories, photographs or memorabilia to share, please contact the museum, 320 Rogers Avenue, 479-783-7841.