Downtown Arkadelphia has a new look in honor of Black History Month.
Multi-color banners celebrating the occasion can be seen throughout the downtown area. However, someday, downtown will look like Main Street, with every banner displaying a different Black History Month honoree.
In this inaugural year, a nominating committee of notable African American leaders in the community selected 12 people who are from or who made an impact on Arkadelphia to have their likenesses displayed downtown.
The inaugural class features many “firsts.” From the first black mayor and chamber of commerce member to the first black graduates from Henderson State and Ouachita Baptist, these individuals paved the way for thousands of African Americans on a local and national level.
Take a moment to scroll through and learn more about this year’s honorees.
Mary Nell Clay
Mary Nell Clay was the first black female principal at Arkadelphia Public School District.
A native of Hope, Arkansas, Clay received both her undergraduate (1973) and master’s degrees (1977) from Henderson State University.
Clay began working as a special education teacher for APSD in December 1973. 10 years into her career, she became the special education supervisor for the district.
In 1999, Clay made history as the first black female principal in the district when she accepted the job at Central Primary School.
Clay retired in 2008 after 34 years of service to APSD. She enjoyed nine years of retirement before passing away in 2017.
Martha Dixon is an Author and Entrepreneur from Clark County, Arkansas.
In 1987, Dixon’s door-knocking efforts led her to style Arkansas’s then-First Lady, Hillary Clinton. Clinton wore a “Martha’s Design” dress twice- First, to the 1987 Arkansas Governor’s Inaugural Ball, and then to the 1993 Presidential Inaugural Gala celebrating her husband’s election.
Dixon’s success with her fashion line led her to open Dixon Manufacturing in Arkadelphia. She designed and produced uniforms for hospital and food service employees, as well as children’s school uniforms. A devastating fire in 2006 led Dixon to sell off and gift portions of the company, but Dixon continued to produce the food service uniforms from home.
Dixon has been recognized as one of the “Top 100 Women of Arkansas” by Arkansas Business magazine and was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2005. Her autobiography, “Triumph Beyond Measure,” was published in 2011.
Today, Dixon continues to be a leader in the community and provides mentorship to young entrepreneurs.
Carolyn Green was the first black graduate from Ouachita Baptist University, formerly known as Ouachita Baptist College.
Born in Arkadelphia but raised in Hot Springs, Green enrolled at Henderson State University as an education major in the fall of 1963. A year later, Ouachita Baptist College’s Board of Trustees adopted a resolution “to deny no person admission or any other right as a student on the basis of race, creed, color or national origin” effective immediately. Green immediately transferred to Ouachita and became the first black student to attend the college under the new rule.
Green was the first black student to live on campus in a dorm and the first to join a social club at the college (Theta Lambda Tau). She became heavily involved in the college’s sociology club and the campus chapter of the Young Democrats.
Green graduated from Ouachita in 1966 with a degree in political science and sociology. She went on to work as a flight attendant with American Airlines for 43 years, where she retired from in 2009.
Maurice Horton, Sr.
Maurice Horton, Sr. was the first black graduate from Henderson State University.
Horton spent the first two years of his collegiate journey at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, formerly known as A.M.&N. College.
In 1955, Horton transferred to Henderson State University and two years later, he made history as the first African American to graduate from the college.
Horton spent his life as an educator, teaching math and science at Peake High School in Arkadelphia and in the Dollarway School District in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. In 1993, he was named Dollarway’s district superintendent, a role he served in until his retirement.
Horton never forgot his roots and spent his retirement serving as president of the Peake High School Foundation where he sought funding to restore the Rosenwald Building in Arkadelphia.
After a long life of service, Horton passed away at the age of 75 in 2010.
Sergeant James Middleton
Sergeant James Middleton was the first black police officer and first black sergeant in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.
A native of Arkadelphia, Sergeant Middleton received national recognition twice for his service to the community. In 1992, Sergeant Middleton received two awards through the American Police Hall of Fame. He was the recipient of the Legion of Honor Award for injuries he received during a vehicular assault while on duty in 1981. Sergeant Middleton was also awarded the Silver Star for Bravery for his efforts in stopping a 1986 bank robbery.
Sergeant Middleton was the first black police officer to retire from APD. He retired in 1993 with 25 years of service. Sergeant Middleton enjoyed 11 years of retirement before passing away in 2004.
Terry Nelson is the first professional football player from Arkadelphia, Arkansas.
A graduate of Peake High School, Nelson attended the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff where he played tight end for the Golden Lions.
At 6’2 and 233 lbs., Nelson was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the fourth round of the 1973 NFL Draft. Nelson played eight seasons for the Rams and was a starter in Super Bowl XIV.
In 2015, Nelson was presented a “Golden Football” in his hometown of Arkadelphia as part of the NFL’s 50th-anniversary celebration of the Super Bowl.
Upon his retirement from the NFL, Nelson returned to Arkadelphia where he and his wife, Frances, raised their two children.
John Edward Peake
John Edward Peake was a well-known educator in Arkansas and is the namesake for Peake Schools.
Peake was born in Arkadelphia in 1851 and spent over 30 years of his life in education. He traveled across the state of Arkansas teaching at various places and spent time serving as principal of the Sloan School on West Main Street in Arkadelphia.
Following Peake’s death in 1906, community leaders in Arkadelphia saw a need for a new school building. The land for this new building was sold by Peake’s family, with the agreement the property would retain the Peake name.
The Peake campus was the only public school in Arkadelphia for African Americans until 1960. Following integration in 1969, the school then became Arkadelphia Public School District’s middle school and in 1984, it was used as a Headstart facility.
Through all of the changes the Peake campus has gone through, the Peake name remains a constant in Arkadelphia. In January 2023, APSD officials broke ground on the new Peake-Rosenwald Elementary School which is set to open in the fall of 2024.
Garrett Ann Sanders was the first black board member for the City of Arkadelphia.
Sanders spent 38 years working as a nurse in the Arkadelphia area, with some of her career taking place at the county jail. Sanders served as a jail nurse and eventually became the first female bailiff in the Clark County court system.
Sanders’ passion for public service led her to run for a seat on the City of Arkadelphia’s Board of Directors. She was elected and after two terms, Sanders was appointed to vice mayor of Arkadelphia.
Following her retirement from public service, Sanders split her time between Arkadelphia and her “second home” of Chicago, until she passed in 2020.
Reverend A. William Terry
Reverend A. William Terry was a pastor and community activist during integration in Arkadelphia.
Following his graduation from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, formerly known as A.M.&N. College, Reverend Terry became a church leader and pastor of the Greater Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Arkadelphia.
In 1965, Reverend Terry and five other men traveled to Alabama to participate in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery. This group of men would become known as “The Arkadelphia 6.”
Upon his return to Arkadelphia, Reverend Terry fought to keep Dr. King’s mission alive. He spoke out against injustices he observed in Arkadelphia and was a formative leader and eventually president of the Clark County NAACP.
In 1972, Reverend Terry left Greater Pleasant Hill Baptist Church to start the Mt. Olive Baptist Church. He pastored there until his death in 1992.
Eula Thomas was the first black chamber of commerce member in Arkadelphia.
Born in Arkadelphia, Thomas attended Peake High School and both of the community’s universities. Thomas received her bachelor’s degree from Ouachita Baptist and her master’s degree from Henderson State, where she would spend the majority of her career teaching and leading.
In addition to her work as an educator and administrator, Thomas was co-owner of Kaye’s Florist/Enterprise. She ran the business with her sister-in-law and eventually took over as the sole proprietor. When Thomas acquired full ownership of the business, she simultaneously made history as the first black female member of the Arkadelphia Chamber of Commerce.
Thomas spent her life serving others and giving back to her community. She passed away in 2022 at the age of 74.
James Williams was the first black board member and first black mayor of Arkadelphia.
Born and raised in Arkadelphia, Williams spent time the first part of his professional career in the military. In 1977, Williams was teaching at Ouachita Vocational-Technical School in Malvern when a community member approached him about running for the city board.
After much thought and consideration, Williams announced his candidacy for a seat on the city’s board of directors. His election made history, and he held his seat on the board for 20 years. In 1985, Williams made his history again when he was elected to mayor of Arkadelphia, a position he held for two terms.
Williams was the owner and director of Williams Funeral Home in Arkadelphia. Prior to his death in 2005, he sold the business to his great-nephew Roland Gosey, who has followed in his uncle’s footsteps as a funeral home director and city board member.
Henry Wilson was a former president of the Clark County NAACP and activist in Arkadelphia.
Born in Gum Springs, Arkansas, Wilson graduated from Peake High School in 1950 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Wilson’s naval service included 22 months in Guam and a stint in Astoria, OR. Following his honorable discharge from the Navy, Wilson spent 37 years working at shipyards in California until his retirement in 1989.
In 1991, Wilson had relocated to Clark County and started working for the Arkadelphia Public School District. In 2019, he formally retired from public service but continued to be a champion for the causes he felt passionate about.
Wilson passed away in 2021, but his passion for community service and activism lives on in those who loved and supported him.