This past week, the 6th annual Memorial In May Conference took place in Ft. Smith Arkansas. I had the honor of delivering the keynote address each day.
PAAC is a group formed in Arkansas in 2003, by a group of genealogists and preservationists who noticed that several among them had a strong passion in the preservation of African American burial sites in Arkansas. This year the conference took place in my hometown of Ft. Smith, Arkansas. The two day conference was held at the Creekmore Community center in Ft. Smith, which provided a wonderful place with ample space for presentations and exhibits.
One of many exhibits at PAAC Conference
More exhibits at PAAC Conference
Texas Cemetery Restoration was a popular exhibitor offering information on their services
The mayor of the City of Fort Smith, came on Saturday to extend official greetings from the city to those in attendance.
Mayor Sandy Sanders of Ft. Smith, Arkansas Greets those in attendance
The workshops were enlightening and informative, with presenters discussing their experiences on many topics from their own cemetery restoration projects to beginners asking questions about getting started.
Ms. Dee Curry of Morrilton Arkansas addressing the audience.
In addition, appreciation was shown to many who have worked over the past several years to find and restore abandoned and neglected burial grounds. On Friday, PAAC President Tamela Tenypenny Lewis was honored with a special award in appreciation of her service not only to PAAC, but also to cemetery preservation.
Award being presented to President Tamela Tenpenny-Lewis
Saturday's luncheon provided opportunity for people to interact with each other and to share notes and stories about their work in historic preservation.
A number of presentations were made by community representatives, preservationists, archaeologists, made the conference interesting. One presenter was archaeologist Leslie "Skip" Stewart-Abernathy, from the Arkansas Archaeological Survey, in Morrilton, Arkansas. He went into detail about the preservation of cemeteries and how to determine where unmarked burials can be found.
Dr. Leslie "Skip" Stewart-Abernathy
I had the honor to give a presentation on the history and the impact of the Black Benevolent Societies. I spoke about the groups that were a part of the local communities throughout the Black community. Among the groups I spoke about were the Mosaic Templars of America, The Supreme Royal Circle of Friends of the World, the Knights and Daughters of Tabor, and more.
Benevolent Societies present in Arkansas in the late 19th century and early 20th century
Saturday's schedule events were opened up by Ms. Carla Coleman who later received an award for her continuous contributions to PAAC.
Carla Coleman opened up events on Saturday
On Saturday Dr. Bettye Gragg moderated events on Saturday. She serves on the board of PAAC was present and she spoke from the perspective of community developent. She works at the University of Arkansas Monticello and also works to preserve and document Campground Legacy Cemetery in the Monticello community.
Dr. Bettye Gragg
The afternoon offered two highlights---special awards were given to Tonia Holleman of Van Buren Arkansas, and Verdie Triplett of Ft. Coffee Oklahoma, for their work in the preservation of African American burial grounds. In addition Ms.Holleman has been responsible for documenting more than 40,000 persons of African Ancestry in western Arkansas. Mr. Triplett's award was accepted by Ms. Holleman on his behalf, who could not be present
Ms. Tonia Holleman of Van Buren Arkansas spoke about her work and also given
a special award in appreciation for her work and research.
A luncheon was provided by Charlotte's Kitchen. The lunch break also allowed an opportunity for many to mix and mingle and to discuss share ideas pertaining to their own personal projects.
Sherri Tolliver and George McGill share a conversation with each other during the break.
A special highlight of the conference was to learn about a group of children who attend Martin Luther King Elementary School, in Little Rock. These children are learning about history and preservation and they are also teaching electronic preservation methods to heir own teachers through a special initiative and grant funded program. The young people told the audience about their own work as young preservationists and the audience received them warmly.
Members of Junior PAAC impressed the audience and they were awarded plaques for their work.
One of the members of Junior PAAC also spoke to the crowd about their preservation work.
A representative of Junior PAAC members addressed the audience.
Carole Barger of the Ft. Smith Historical Society, and others took time to interact with some of the young children from Junior PAAC afterwards.
Jr. PAAC members chatting with others in attendance.
Since PAAC holds it conference around the state in a different city each year, some from Ft. Smith got a chance to meet others from Little Rock and share conversation with each other.
Mr. Henderson of Little Rock and Sherri Tolliver of Ft. Smith
Mayor Sanders interacts with Rev. Jackie Flake and Mr. Cecil Greene
Many were excited to listen to the presentation made by the representatives of the Texas Cemetery Restoration LLC. Their exhibit was equally as fascinating, and many received free samples of D2--an organic solution to dissolve lichen on headstones.
Representatives from Texas Cemetery Restoration LLC spoke to visitors at their exhibition booth.
Mrs. Allene Stafford was one of the attendees from the local area at the conference.
The conference ended with a cemetery tour of Nowland Springs Cemetery located on North 6th street. Rev. Jackie Flake has developed an interest in preserving this burial site. This burial ground is long neglected and less than 100 stones can be seen. However, one visitor was able to see the headstone of her ancestors for the first time.
Sherri Tolliver of Ft. Smith stands near her ancestor's headstone.
While touring this burial ground one of the Mr. Gragg of Monticello pointed out that there was a benevolent society member buried there. The deceased was a member of the Mosaic Templars of America, and this is one few Mosaic Templar stones to be found in western Arkansas.
Mosaic Templar Burial at Newlon Spring Cemetery in Ft. Smith
From that headstone it was noted that there was a Ft. Smith chamber of the Mosaic Templars, known as Border City Chamber.
Border City Chamber was the local chapter of the Ft. Smith Mosaic Templars of America
In summary, this conference hosted by the a group of genealogists who share a passion for cemetery preservation, made the 6th annual PAAC conference a success. From the old to the young Junior PAAC members, the concern for preservation of the burial sites of the ancestors is strong and growing.
I am particularly grateful for the opportunity to speak and participate in a wonderful event.