J. L. Brown (1853–1938)

aka: James Lafayette Brown

James Lafayette (J. L.) Brown, one of the most influential early leaders of the Landmark Baptist movement in Arkansas, was a minister, editor, poet, legislator, and published writer.

J. L. Brown was born at Elm Store, a rural community on the Eleven Point River in northwestern Randolph County, on December 7, 1853. He was the youngest of the eight children of the farming family of Elijah Brown and Mozilla Brown. His father died in 1859, and Brown and his family relocated to eastern Independence County after the Civil War. He later recalled that he “was raised in poverty and received the most rudimentary of educations.” Most of his classroom education was obtained after he was an adult.

He was ordained as a Baptist minister by the Maple Springs Missionary Baptist Church in Independence County in 1876 and spent the remainder of his life as pastor of Missionary Baptist churches across Arkansas. He had a natural gift for poetry and writing and served for many years, along with Ben M. Bogard, on the editorial staff of the Arkansas Baptist, The Landmark Baptist, and The Baptist and Commoner. In 1917, he became an associate editor of the Baptist and Commoner and served as its editor from 1931 until 1936. When he died in 1938, he was serving as the assistant editor of the American Baptist, published in Texarkana (Miller County). At the age of sixty-three, he began an extensive writing career, resulting in the publication of some fifteen books of collected poetry and prose, mostly self published. His most famous was his first, Brown Scraps, published in Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1916. His last volume, Brown’s Memorial Sketch Book, containing poetry, biographies of fellow ministers, and Baptist church histories, was published in Little Rock in 1937, shortly before his death. Beginning in 1902, Brown took an active part in the newly organized State Association of Missionary Baptist Churches and later in the work of the American Baptist Association.

His first wife was Margaret S. Crow, whom he married on December 24, 1877. They had one daughter, Myrtle, before Margaret died in November 1879. He married again in 1886 to Mary Elizabeth Nuckolls, who died on June 16, 1923. They had eight children: one unnamed daughter who died soon after birth, Nora Pearl, James C., Willie E., Mozilla M., Holmin H., Dora, Marie, and Maud.

In 1908, he was elected as a Democrat representative from Independence County to the Arkansas General Assembly. During the session that followed, he authored a law calling for a statewide vote on the prohibition question.

Brown died in Batesville (Independence County) on June 24, 1938, and is buried in the Center Grove Cemetery in Independence County.

For additional information:
Allsopp, Fred W. History of the Arkansas Press for a Hundred Years and More. Little Rock: Parke-Harper Publishing, 1922.

Ashcraft, Robert. Pioneer Faith: The History of Missionary Baptist Associations and Churches in Arkansas from 1818 to 1920. Malvern, AR: History and Archives Committee State Association of Missionary Baptist Churches of Arkansas, 1994.

J. L. Brown Issue. American Baptist, July 27, 1938.

Russell P. Baker
Arkansas History Commission and State Archives


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