The Ozark Foothills African-American History Museum would not have been possible without the work of Albessie Thompson. Born and raised in Twin Groves, Arkansas, Ms. Thompson has worked tirelessly for the past 30 years to preserve the history of her hometown. Part of Ms. Thompson’s job in the early 1990s as an employee with the Arkansas Department of Labor was to do community relations work.
“I was told one day that my community was really struggling to find funds to get the roads paved, so I attempted to help them as part of my job description,” Ms. Thompson said. “I thought I could walk down to the county judge’s office and tell them ‘we need our roads paved.’ I had no idea that to pave five miles of roads would cost $100,000. The county judge told me (very nicely), ‘We just don’t have those funds available.’”
Ms. Thompson began researching and calling around to find out what exactly the community needed to do to get the dirt roads paved. She recalled seeing a neighbor who walked the roads regularly covered in dust. Eventually, a community developer in nearby Conway pointed Ms. Thompson in the right direction by telling her the communities of Zion Grove and Solomon Grove needed to incorporate. Ms. Thompson remembers enjoying the meeting between the communities at Solomon Grove Church.
“We had to come up with a name,” she said. Many people suggested naming the community after a child or grandchild. “That was the fun part. Someone came up with Twin Groves. We all voted on it, and now we are Twin Groves.”
As they went through the process, Ms. Thompson and others soon realized that there was not any documentation to show the communities existed.
“We couldn’t find any history in Faulkner County that we existed at all,” she said. “Even people who had been here 75 to 100 years – no records.”
Ms. Thompson and other community members began gathering pictures, oral interviews and other documents. They also received help from the Arkansas Humanities Council to come up with a mission to improve the quality of life for individuals in the community.
Since the 1990s, Twin Groves has seen improved roads, water and building restoration. Photos, documents and oral interviews now have a home in the Ozark Foothills African-American History Museum. The area surrounding the museum also has a library, a community center and a newly built memorial garden that serves as a tribute to their ancestors. Ms. Thompson says they also plan to build a new, larger library overlooking the garden.
Find out more by visiting the Ozark Foothills African-American History Museum’s Facebook page.