The University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana Multicultural Club will host two Black History Month programs this month at Hempstead Hall. The first program, on Thursday, February 9th at 6:00 p.m., will include performances by the Beryl Henry Drum Ballet, a “step” performance by Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and a special presentation by author Willy Lee Jones, Jr. on the importance of music in African-American culture.
Willie Lee Jones, Jr. grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. As a child, he observed how the integration of the local high school affected his family and his community. He enrolled as a student at Central High School seven years after the federal court-ordered integration was carried out. In his junior year at Central, he became the first black student to start on the varsity football team. He excelled in both track and football. After high school, he enrolled and graduated from Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, Arkansas on a football and track scholarship. He was an avid baseball player with the American Legion after high school. Willie is a retired community developer. Serving first as a Community Organizer, then as a Community Center Director, and finally as a Business and Community Liaison. He presently teaches Bible Study across the community and serves as a Deacon at St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. He is married to the former Annette Thomas. They have four adult children.
The second performance will feature the Pleasant Hill Quilters on Thursday, February 16th at 1:00 p.m. During the early years of the Nation, the Underground Railroad was a successful effort to aid African Americans in the South to escape the drudgery of slavery. Their mission was to secretly transport slaves to Canada where slavery was outlawed. Because the Canadian border was so far from the southern plantations and because of slave owners’ efforts to capture and return the escapees, travel was a hazardous undertaking. Secret codes and signals were developed to guide the travelers. One was the use of bed quilts presumably hung out for cleaning. Each patch of the quilt represented a signal to guide the escapees. The Pleasant Hill Quilters have preserved the tradition by educating the community about how the historical signal system worked.