White County, AR
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Rediscovering White County's slave cemeteries
The Daily Citizen
There are gaps in the history of White County, missing information that a local pastor has been working to fill.
Rev. Lamar Wright, a minister at Harris Chapel in Augusta and
Praise Christian Center in Searcy, joined the White County Historical Society
and was obtained a copy of a book about local history. As he read the facts
about days gone by, he was struck by what was not there: The black history of
So Wright, who is black, began an effort to document the experiences of African-Americans who had lived in the area before him and has uncovered, sometimes literally, many graves of former slaves.
“Just a stone sticking in the ground is a sure sign of a slave,” Wright said. “Some poor whites used it, too.”
The first documented slaves brought to White County were brought to Georgetown by French settlers, Wright said.
In the Smyrna Church Cemetery, the slaves were buried in an
area near the highway, Wright said.
“Around 1920, three blacks were lynched and buried right there,” Wright said. “There's only three actual markers in the cemetery but there's numerous bodies out there.”
In the Dupriest Cemetery near Rose Bud the oldest grave dates
back to 1861, the year the Civil War began. Many slaves from, “the colony”
are buried there.
“The colony was the largest group of former slaves and their descendants in the county,” Wright said. “They were mostly from the Dupriest Plantation. After the war, they stayed right there and educated themselves. They went to Little Rock and hired some teachers.”
Helped by the Freedman Bureau, the former slaves restructured their lives in their new freedom, and the colony's population numbered over 200 at one time.
The last survivor of colony life, Telmon Boyd Nix, 92, still lives nearby and has photographs of his grandfather, a former slave. After being freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, Nix's grandfather migrated on foot to the colony from Georgia.
“James Dupriest, the plantation's owner, was a good man who would take them in and allow them to live in dignity,” Wright said.
The Crow Cemetery in Kensett contains the oldest slave grave in the county, Wright said. In 1942 the cemetery was cleared from its overgrown state and now the old roadbed can be clearly seen bisecting it. The grave of Nicholas Owen, who was forced to fight in the Confederate Army and who died in 1910, is found there, not far from where the Battle of Whitney Lane occurred.
Burial sites Wright has visited include the Floyd Colored Cemetery, the Mt. Olive/Bedford Chapel Cemetery near Rose Bud, the Union Grove Black Cemetery and the black section of Oak Grove Cemetery in Searcy.
A good source for his research is “The Lost Black History of White County,” by Fran Tolliver, available at Amazon.com.
Wright plans to continue his research, looking through cemeteries in spite of heat, bugs or time constraints.
“The whole story has not been told,” Wright said.
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