John Henry Gammon Jr. (1906–1988)
John Henry Gammon Jr. was a founder and first president of the Arkansas Negro Farmers Association, in addition to being a rural civil rights activist who challenged segregated schools in his native Crittenden County. His reputation was such that he was remembered after his death as “Eastern Arkansas’s Martin Luther King.”
Born in Marion (Crittenden County) on June 8, 1906 (as listed on his World War II draft card, although sources vary on his birth date and year), to farmers John Gammon and Mary Jane Ray Gammon, he was a 1927 graduate of Memphis, Tennessee’s LeMoyne Normal Institute (the predecessor to LeMoyne-Owen College). In 1931, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Arkansas AM&N College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff).
Gammon began his career as an educator at the Fitzhugh School in Woodruff County, a position he retained until 1935, after which he worked for the Resettlement Administration, the forerunner of the Farmers Home Administration (FHA).
After returning to Marion in 1938, Gammon eventually obtained 600 acres on which he grew cotton, soybeans, watermelons, and alfalfa. He also had five catfish, bass, and buffalo ponds, in addition to Angus and Hereford cattle. While Gammon’s family labored on the farm, so, too, did a cadre of tenant farmers. A significant rural community leader, in 1944, Gammon participated in a “postwar Negro Farm planning meeting” at Frenchman’s Bayou in Mississippi County, on a panel titled “The Farms of Tomorrow.”
In 1948, Gammon and 200 African American farmers founded the Arkansas Negro Farmers Association at Arkansas AM&N College; the organization was later renamed the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation Negro Division. Gammon was elected its first president. He also cultivated the next generation of Black farmers and worked closely with the New Farmers of America (NFA), a national organization founded at the Tuskegee Institute in 1935 for young African American men to “promote agricultural leadership, character, thrift, scholarship, cooperation, and citizenship.” Gammon used his farm as a laboratory to conduct training sessions for veterans to learn diversified farming practices.
Gammon further supported Black agrarians by engaging in rural civil rights activism. In 1950, before the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision, he criticized inferior conditions in African American schools. At a local Negro Division meeting in Columbia County, he challenged segregated schools in Crittenden County because they denied his children equal educational opportunities and facilities, saying, “They just don’t get what they need.” As a result, he announced that he was moving with his wife and children to Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), where he believed more adequate educational facilities were available. Under Gammon’s leadership, the Arkansas Farm Bureau Negro Division additionally raised scholarship money to send students to medical school with the stipulation that they return to the state to practice in rural communities for three years.
In 1965, Gammon was one of the first African Americans appointed to the state Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation committee to address the widespread discrimination Black farmers endured. After the Negro Division was absorbed into the Arkansas Farm Bureau in 1966, Gammon’s rural activism increased. He co-authored an article titled, “Fish Farming—Business and Pleasure Do Go Together” in the 1967 USDA Yearbook of Agriculture. In the 1960s, Gammon began hosting politicians and American Farm Bureau leaders on his farm in Marion. The proceeds supported the John Gammon Foundation, which awarded scholarships to college students from Crittenden County. Gammon was also a member of the United States Agency of International Development (USAID), a government agency formed in 1961 to administer civil foreign aid to develop natural resources in foreign countries. In 1969, President Richard Nixon appointed Gammon to serve on the Commodity Credit Corporation advisory board and the Committee for the Employment of the Handicapped.
An active Arkansas Democratic Party member, in 1972 Gammon was selected as a delegate to attend the Democratic National Convention. He ran unsuccessfully for state representative the same year. Gammon was also a member of the University of Arkansas Development Council and an alumni member of the Arkansas chapter of Gamma Sigma Delta, an agriculture honor society. In 1982, he was recognized by the University of Arkansas for his service to the agricultural community.
John Gammon Jr. died on October 9, 1988. In 1990, he was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame. He is buried on the Gammon family farm.
For additional information:
“$80,000-A-Year Ain’t Hay.” Chicago Defender, September 6, 1952, p. 9.
“AFBF President to Speak.” Courier News, Blytheville, Arkansas, August 6, 1976, p. 7.
“Arkansas Farm Bureau Prexy Blasts Unequal Facilities of Co. Schools.” Arkansas State Press, October 6, 1950, p. 1.
“First District Rally for Negro Farmers Is Scheduled Sunday.” Arkansas Gazette, June 29, 1968, p. 3.
“Four of 27 Delegates to Go McGovern if Released.” Hope Star, June 26, 1972, pp. 1, 2.
“Gammon—LeMoyne’s Commencement Speaker.” Tri-State Defender, Memphis, Tennessee, December 18, 1985, p. 2.
Grizzell, Roy, Jr., and John Gammon Jr. “Fish Farming—Business and Pleasure Do Go Together.” USDA Yearbook of Agriculture 1967. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1967.
“Hundreds at Gammon Funeral.” Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, October 13, 1988, pp. 19, 21.
“List of Candidates.” Courier News, May 29, 1972, p. 11.
“Negro Chosen for ASCS Panel.” Baxter Bulletin, June 12, 1969, p. 9.
“Ohlendorf Gives Awards.” Courier News, May 14, 1975, p. 12.
“Planter Prospers, Points the Way for Others.” Commercial Appeal, September 8, 1968, p. 34.
“Rep. Mills Speaker at Fish Fry.” Hope Star, August 30, 1971, p. 1.
“U.S. Farm Posts Go to Negroes in the South.” New York Times, April 3, 1965, p. 1.
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