Project Aims to Preserve History of African American Neighborhood in Conway

The community initiative involves a partnership with UCA to collect oral histories.

Pine Street High School
Courtesy: Pine Street CommUnity Museum

Through her work with the Pine Street CommUnity Museum, Leona Walton continues to preserve and share the history of Conway’s historically Black neighborhood. Born and raised in the region, Walton has memories of attending first grade in a building in the Pine Street neighborhood that’s still standing and in use. She also remembers the impact of segregation on her life. 

While this history is well-known and personal for Walton, it wasn’t until she started working with the museum that she realized how little people knew about the Pine Street area and the Black community in Conway. 

“Some people did not even know there was segregation in Conway,” Walton says. “Some people did not know Blacks and whites couldn’t even go in the movie theatre through the same door. They didn’t know we had to use separate bathrooms.”

In addition to her work at the museum, Walton is also helping preserve this history by assisting with the Conway Arkansas African American Historic Context Study.

“History along with the accomplishments of minorities in Conway just needs to be preserved and carried on to the next generation,” she says.

James Walden, director of planning and development for the city, says the study grew out of discussions surrounding naming something in Conway after Martin Luther King Jr. 

“Rolling out of that there was a sense that we probably needed to do more to help preserve the history in particular of the Pine Street and Markham Street neighborhood,” he says.

Because several structures have been torn down, city officials are considering installing historical markers to note where they once stood. This is also an area where officials anticipate seeing more redevelopment and Walden says as that happens, city officials want to make sure preserving the neighborhood’s history is a part of that process.

“We want to bundle all of these things together so that with that redevelopment, we aren’t just totally erasing the history of the significance of what’s going on within the community,” he says.

A $28,000 grant from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program is supporting the context study, which will help gather historical information about the area. The study is being led by Houston-based consulting firm McDoux Preservation. 

One component of the project is gathering oral histories from African American community members like Leona Walton. The University of Central Arkansas is collaborating on this aspect of the study and Walton has been helping connect interested participants with interviewers.

The winter storms in February caused a slight delay, but Walden says things are expected to pick up in March. The goal is to have a draft for review in May or June, and a final report by August. The city can then take that information and use it to consider development of a walking tour and/or wayfinding signs. Officials may also explore the possibility of placing some buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. 

“I think it additionally shows that we as a community value this history in a very big way, and it’s not just their history or someone’s history, that it is Conway history,” Walden says.

People interested in participating in the oral history portion of the project can contact Leona Walton by calling 501-697-0930.

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.