Rewriting History: The Forgotten Records

Most residents have heard the story that the first school for African-American children in Randolph County was a one-room school opened by sisters at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Pocahontas circa 1888. It is also believed that this was the first school of its kind in Arkansas. Additionally, the story goes that the school closed after a short time due to outrage in the white community over educating local blacks.

This story has long been believed as fact. The story has been published in books, articles, and online resources such as the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. The above photo is the only known image to exist of the school, take around 1889. The photo includes several children along with Father Eugene Weibel and Sister Agnes Dali.

In the spring of 2012, local historian Cindy Robinett was doing some genealogical research for EMHC and after thinking about the story of the school, contacted Jennifer Nichols, church secretary at St. Paul, to see if there might be any records of African-American individuals who were associated with the one-room school. What happened as a result of that initial search has actually changed the history of African-American education in Arkansas. Soon Nichols called Robinett and excitedly relayed that a record book for the school had been found in
the St. Paul Church archives and it dated from 1894-1909!

The public was invited to attend a free presentation on Saturday evening, October 13, starting around 7:15 pm at the Eddie Mae Herron Museum/Center located at 1708 Archer Street, where they discussed the school, the findings in the record book, race and religious relations in Randolph County at the dawn of the 20 th Century, and other history linking the African-American community to St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Pocahontas.

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