The Murphy-Jeffries Building, located at 2901–2903 South Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Little Rock (Pulaski County), is a two-story brick commercial building constructed around 1925 that served as the office of a prominent African-American businessman. The Murphy-Jeffries Building was listed on the Arkansas Register of Historic Places on April 3, 2019.
John F. Murphy and Ethel Murphy built a two-story structure on what was then High Street to house a small neighborhood grocery store in one storefront and another business, initially a pharmacy, in the other. Residential space upstairs was used by the Murphys and their son and daughter-in-law. The building became the anchor of a small business district between Twenty-ninth and Thirtieth streets that served the surrounding neighborhood. The Murphys sold the building after a few years, and the two storefronts housed a succession of small businesses in the decades that followed until Andrew Jeffries acquired the building in 1963.
Jeffries was born on the Baucum Plantation in Scott (Pulaski and Lonoke counties) on June 6, 1920. He served two years in the U.S. Army before marrying Helen Juanita Williams in 1942; they had eight children. He reenlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1945 to support his growing family, leaving in 1947, after which he received his high school diploma from Dunbar High School. Jeffries would later earn an associate’s degree from Dunbar Junior College and a BS in business administration from Philander Smith College. He started working as a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) in 1947, a job he would hold for twenty-five years.
He also held a number of other jobs while working for the USPS, including as an agent for Little Rock’s Block Realty Company from 1951 to 1959. He lost his job there after selling a house in an all-white neighborhood to a Black family in violation of Arkansas Real Estate Commission regulations, but Raymond Block Jr. urged him to start his own real estate business. The two would remain friends for the rest of their lives.
He received a state license to sell insurance in July 1963, the year he purchased the Murphy-Jeffries Building, and operated his real estate and insurance business from the former Murphy grocery store. According to the Arkansas Register of Historic Places nomination, “His office became an incubator for licensed African American agents starting in the field of real estate.” Jeffries became the state’s first Black bail bondsman in 1970, renaming his business “A. Jeffries Realty and Bail Bond Company.”
In 1963, attorney Christopher Columbus Mercer Jr. began working from the other office space in the Murphy-Jeffries Building, and according to Jeffries’s descendants, he occupied it rent-free under an agreement with Jeffries. Mercer, the third Black student accepted into the University of Arkansas School of Law, worked closely with Daisy Gatson Bates during the Central High School desegregation crisis. He worked in the building until 1994.
Andrew Jeffries died on December 9, 2003, and in subsequent years the Murphy-Jeffries Building fell into such a state of disrepair that the City of Little Rock condemned it. Following a Quapaw Quarter Association campaign to save the building, during which more than 1,600 people signed an online petition, members of the Jeffries family attended the November 17, 2020, meeting of the Little Rock Board of Directors and convinced them to remove the Murphy-Jeffries Building from the demolition list. The building was sold to Stephanie and Myron Jackson, who are redeveloping the structure.
For additional information:
Herzog, Rachel. “Jeffries Building on Board Agenda.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 15, 2020, p. 2B.
Jenkins, Cary. “Sense of Preservation—Sisters Hope Dad’s Offices Can Be Saved for History.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 5, 2020, p. 1D, 6D.
“Murphy-Jeffries Building.” Arkansas Register of Historic Places registration form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/arkansas-register-listings/murphy-jeffries-building (accessed December 17, 2020).
“The Murphy Jeffries Building: Success!” Quapaw Quarter Association Advocacy Update, November 18, 2020.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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