Nonfiction

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Palmer, Bob

aka: Robert Franklin Palmer Jr.
Robert Franklin (Bob) Palmer Jr. was an author, music critic, musician, ethnomusicologist, lecturer, record producer, and documentary filmmaker, not to be confused with the British rock singer of the same name. Critic Greil Marcus called Palmer “one of the few distinguished pop music critics to come out of the South.” Bob Palmer was born on June 19, 1945, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to teacher/pianist Robert F. Palmer Sr. and award-winning poet and freelance writer Marguerite Bowers Palmer. He grew up in the lower Pulaski Heights area of Little Rock. He had one sister, a half brother, and a half sister. From an early age, Palmer had his ear to the radio. Unbeknownst to his parents, the teenaged Palmer sometimes …

Pettigrew, Helen Lyle

Helen Lyle Pettigrew was an author of word puzzles (including crossword puzzles). Her puzzles appeared in newspapers, magazines, and books, including several books for which she was the sole author. She was probably the first Arkansas native to author a syndicated crossword puzzle. Helen Pettigrew was born on October 31, 1894, in Charleston (Franklin County) to Thomas Aldridge Pettigrew, who was a prominent lawyer and educator, and Lucy Lee Ervin Pettigrew. Her father was the son of Charleston Academy founder John M. Pettigrew. She had three sisters and one brother, and was a member of the local Presbyterian Church. Helen Pettigrew was a teacher in the Charleston School District around 1920. Pettigrew’s first known puzzle was a crossword published in …

Pharr, Suzanne

Suzanne Pharr is a longtime activist for social justice. As an author, organizer, and strategist, she has led numerous campaigns aimed at ensuring equality and opportunity for often-marginalized people. Pharr founded the feminist, anti-racist organization the Women’s Project in the 1980s, which worked with women in small towns throughout Arkansas. Suzanne Pharr was born in 1939 in Hog Mountain, Georgia, to Cecil Pharr and Willie Mae “Peggy” Moore Pharr. Her father was a farmer, and Pharr, the youngest of eight children, grew up on a farm in Hog Mountain, Georgia, about six miles outside of Lawrenceville. After attending the local schools and earning a reputation as an outstanding high school basketball player, Pharr attended Women’s College of Georgia in Milledgeville, …

Pickens, William

William Pickens, who was born in South Carolina, spent his formative years in Woodruff County and Argenta, now North Little Rock (Pulaski County). He went on to become a nationally known orator, scholar, journalist, and essayist. William Pickens was born near Pendleton in Anderson County, South Carolina, on January 15, 1881. He was the sixth of ten children born to former slaves Jacob and Fannie Pickens. His father was a tenant farmer, and his mother worked as a cook and washerwoman. In 1888, they were lured to Woodruff County, Arkansas, by an immigration agent who promised them better employment and educational opportunities. At this time, such agents were scouring South Carolina for dissatisfied African Americans willing to work on Arkansas …

Rathke, Wade

Wade Rathke is a longtime community organizer and the founder of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). He was living in Arkansas when he started an organization that would evolve in 1970 into ACORN. His efforts to achieve social justice were highlighted in a 2017 documentary film titled The Organizer. Stephen Wade Rathke was born on August 5, 1948, in Laramie, Wyoming, to Edmann J. Rathke and Cornelia Ratliff Rathke. He was raised in Colorado and New Orleans, Louisiana, and graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School in New Orleans in 1966. He then headed to Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, which he attended from 1966 to 1968. Dropping out of Williams in 1968, Rathke began his organizing …

Rayburn, Otto Ernest

Otto Ernest Rayburn was a writer, magazine publisher, and collector of Arkansas and Ozark lore. Vance Randolph, in his introduction to Rayburn’s autobiography, Forty Years in the Ozarks (1957), defined Rayburn as a “dedicated regionalist” and added, “There is no denying that, in the period between 1925 and 1950, Rayburn did more to arouse popular interest in Ozark folklore than all of the professors put together.” Otto Rayburn was born on May 6, 1891, in Hacklebarney settlement, Davis County, Iowa, to William Grant Rayburn, a farmer, and Sarah Jane Turpin Rayburn. The family soon moved to Woodson County, Kansas, where Rayburn grew up. In 1909–1910, he attended Marionville College in Marionville, Missouri. In the spring of 1917, Rayburn bought forty …

Reed, Roy

Roy Reed, author of an incisive biography of Governor Orval Faubus, was a renowned writer and reporter for the Arkansas Gazette and The New York Times. He taught journalism for sixteen years at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). As a teacher, he stressed not only the importance of telling stories accurately but of telling them well, with careful attention to language. Roy Reed was born on February 14, 1930, in Hot Springs (Garland County) to Roy E. Reed, a mail carrier and later a storeowner, and Ella Meredith Reed, a homemaker. His younger sister, Hattie, died in 1964. Reed grew up in Piney, an unincorporated Garland County community near Hot Springs. Piney was racially mixed, and …

Reynolds, John Hugh

John Hugh Reynolds—Arkansas author, longtime president of Hendrix College, and founder of the Arkansas History Commission (now called the Arkansas State Archives)—was born near Enola (Faulkner County) on January 3, 1869. He was one of the seven children born to Jesse M. and Elizabeth Grimes Reynolds. His father was a carpenter, a mechanic, a blacksmith, and a county doctor. After a stint as a rural schoolteacher, Reynolds graduated from Hendrix College, a Methodist institution in Conway (Faulkner County) in 1893. Four years later, he received an MA degree in political science from the University of Chicago. Returning to Arkansas, he became a professor of history and political science at Hendrix College. During his tenure, he also served for four years …

Roy, Frederick Hampton, Sr.

Frederick Hampton Roy Sr. was an ophthalmologist who lived and practiced in Little Rock (Pulaski County). He wrote many books on ophthalmology, some of which have been translated into other languages. Roy also authored books on topics such as history, architecture, and religion. In addition to being a prominent member of the Arkansas medical community, he was a prolific writer, a philanthropist, an advocate for historic preservation, and a politician. F. Hampton Roy was born in Nashville, Tennessee, on June 27, 1937. He graduated from Oak Ridge High School in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in June 1955. After graduation, he entered the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and received a BS in 1958. In 1961, he received his MD from the …

Ruled by the Whip

Ruled by the Whip: Hell behind Bars in America’s Devil’s Island, the Arkansas Penitentiary is a 1958 self-published autobiographical account written by Dale Woodcock. One of the few printed accounts by an Arkansas prisoner, the book chronicles Woodcock’s experiences at Cummins prison farm in the 1950s. While the book garnered little attention when it was written, its tales of violence, corruption, and brutality corroborated abuses documented later during the governorship of Winthrop Rockefeller, who began work to reform the prisons. The author was born Charles Dale Woodcock on March 21, 1925, in Rogers (Benton County). He was the son of Henry Lee Woodcock (1900–1928) and Lillie Dell “Honey” Townsend Woodcock (1907–1988), both of whom were Arkansas natives. After the death …

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft published the first written description of the Arkansas Ozarks’ geography, vegetation, wildlife, and inhabitants. His Journal of a Tour into the Interior of Missouri and Arkansaw, published in London, England, in 1821, is an account of a three-month exploration by Schoolcraft and one companion, Levi Pettibone. From November 1818 to February 1819, Schoolcraft explored land from Potosi, Missouri, southwest to the White River, northwest to near Springfield, Missouri, then south by canoe on the White River to present-day Batesville (Independence County), and finally northeast again to Missouri. Schoolcraft’s great-grandfather was a British soldier in New York in the early 1700s who settled with a German wife in Schoharie County, New York. His son John served in the …

Sheehan, James Murray

James Murray Sheehan served as the first journalism instructor and first publicity director at University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), was editor of the Arkansas Traveler, and published two well-received novels, Half-Gods and Eden. Half-Gods, published in 1927, offered a scathing satire of Fayetteville and the university. Murray Sheehan was born to David Este Sheehan and Alfarata Winder Sheehan on December 15, 1887, in Hamilton, Ohio. Sheehan earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and a master’s from Harvard University. Before coming to the University of Arkansas, he served as a sergeant major of artillery in the Sixth Division during World War I, worked as a newspaper reporter, and taught at the University …

Sherman, Harold Morrow

Harold Morrow Sherman was a popular author and lecturer in the fields of self-help and extrasensory perception (ESP). Arkansas was his adopted home, where he lived for forty years and promoted community development in Stone County. Harold Sherman was born on July 13, 1898, in Traverse City, Michigan, the eldest of three sons of Thomas H. Sherman, a men’s clothier, and Alcinda Morrow Sherman. After briefly attending the University of Michigan, he joined the Student Army Training Corps during World War I. After the war, he moved to Detroit, Michigan, to work for the Ford Motor Company. There, he became reacquainted with a former classmate, Martha Bain, who was a nursing student. They were married on September 26, 1920, and …

Smith, P. Allen

P. Allen Smith is an award-winning designer, a nationally known gardening/lifestyle expert, and the host of two public television programs, P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home and P. Allen Smith’s Garden to Table, as well as the syndicated show P. Allen Smith Gardens. He appears frequently as a guest on such programs as the CBS Early Show and the Today show on NBC, and on the Weather Channel, sharing design and gardening tips with viewers. He is a contributor for a number of national publications such as Elle Décor, House Beautiful, Southern Accents, Southern Living, and Woman’s Day, and is the author of several bestselling books. Paul Allen Smith Jr., the oldest of four children, was born on March 12, 1960, …

Sorrells, John Harvey

John Harvey Sorrells was executive editor of the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain and former deputy director of the U.S. Office of Censorship during World War II. At the time of his death, the Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) native was well respected in journalism circles for his first-hand knowledge of the field and his warm, engaging personality. John Harvey Sorrells was born on March 31, 1896, in a one-story house on State Street in Pine Bluff, one of four children of Walter Bartlett Sorrells, who was a circuit judge, and Mary Iva Fletcher Sorrells. In 1886, his maternal grandfather, Reid Fletcher, launched and edited the Daily Graphic newspaper in Pine Bluff. As a high school student working part time, John Sorrells would …

Starr, Fred

Fred Starr was an educator, farmer, sometimes-politician, and writer who spent the second half of his life working in, observing, and writing about the Ozarks. He was best known for essays that were published in Arkansas and Oklahoma newspapers for more than thirty-five years. They were a mixture of Ozark folklore, often-funny stories of life in the hills, and his own homespun philosophy, told in unpretentious and conversational prose. Fred Starr was born in Waco, Georgia, on September 11, 1896, to William D. Starr, who was a farmer, and Alice Murphy Starr. He was the sixth of their nine children, with six brothers and two sisters, one of whom died soon after birth. He and his family moved to Oklahoma …

Stockley, Griffin Jasper

Griffin Jasper Stockley Jr. is an author, historian, and attorney known for his lifelong commitment to the cause of civil rights. Although Stockley has been honored over the years for his legal achievements, his books have garnered him the widest recognition. His five Gideon Page novels became popular in the 1990s. Noteworthy in their own right, his legal mysteries are also an outward expression of Stockley’s own personal and political beliefs. In 2001, he published a finely researched historical account of the Elaine Massacre, titled Blood in Their Eyes: The Elaine Race Massacres of 1919. In 2002 and 2010, Stockley was awarded the Booker Worthen Literary Prize. He has also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arkansas Historical Association. …

Thomas, David Yancey

David Yancey Thomas was one of the most influential academic historians in the field of Arkansas history. He was a driving force in the re-establishment of the Arkansas Historical Association (AHA) in 1941, was the first editor of the Arkansas Historical Quarterly, was the chair of the Department of History at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) for twenty-eight years, and was known nationally for his scholarly books and articles. David Thomas was born on January 19, 1872, to James Fuller Thomas and Eliza Ann Ratliff Thomas. He grew up on a farm in southwest Kentucky, near Hickman in Fulton County. He was the youngest of nine children. Thomas was a student at Marvin Training School in …

Thurman, Sue Bailey

Author, lecturer, historian, and editor Sue Bailey Thurman was a pioneer in civil rights and equality long before the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Her contributions in her advocacy, writings, and speeches helped lay a foundation that many others have built upon. Sue Elvie Bailey was born in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) on August 26, 1903, one of ten children of educators Rev. Isaac Bailey and Susie Ford Bailey. Her parents emphasized education, religious instruction, and missionary work. They helped to found the forerunner of what became Morris Booker Memorial College in Dermott (Chicot County), a private college funded by African-American Baptists throughout the state. She completed her high school studies at Spellman College in Atlanta, Georgia, …

Tomkievicz, Shirley Jean Abbott

aka: Shirley Abbott
Shirley Jean Abbott Tomkievicz, a magazine editor and writer, achieved her greatest fame for her three volumes of memoirs, which detail the story of her family history and her own coming of age in Hot Springs (Garland County): Womenfolks: Growing Up Down South (1983), The Bookmaker’s Daughter: A Memory Unbound (1991), and Love’s Apprentice: The Education of a Modern Woman (1998), all written under the name Shirley Abbott. Critics  lauded her books as well-written examinations, not only of her own life, but of the South in an age of transition. Even after becoming a resident of New York, Abbott continues to write about Arkansas for a wide audience in magazines and newspapers. She once commented, “I learned to respect and …

Trimble, Vance

Vance Henry Trimble is a prolific award-winning journalist, biographer, and newspaperman from Harrison (Boone County). In 1960, Trimble won the Pulitzer Prize for national coverage, the Sigma Delta Chi Award for distinguished Washington coverage, and the Raymond Clapper Award for that year’s best reporting. Vance Trimble was born in Harrison on July 6, 1913. His father, Guy L. Trimble, was a lawyer, and his mother, Josie Trimble, was a poet and writer. By 1920, anti-union violence and mob rule, culminating in what has been called the Harrison Railroad Riot, forced Guy Trimble to resign as mayor and move his family to Okemah, Oklahoma, where Vance Trimble grew up. Trimble’s mother directed plays at Okemah’s Crystal Theater, and when Trimble was …

Turnbo, Silas Claiborne

Silas Claiborne Turnbo was a former Confederate soldier who spent much of his life collecting reminiscences of life in the Ozark Mountains. These tales are preserved in several archival institutions and provide important primary source information on the region. Silas Turnbo was born on May 26, 1844, on Beaver Creek in Taney County, Missouri, one of eight children of the farming family of James C. Turnbo and Eliza Turnbo. By 1862, the family was living in Arkansas in Marion County, and the young Turnbo enlisted as a private in Company A, Twenty-Seventh Arkansas Infantry, in June 1862, at Yellville (Marion County). He rose to the rank of third sergeant in 1863 but resigned that rank on January 31, 1864, and …

Vance, Rupert Bayliss

Rupert Bayliss Vance was a sociologist on the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), who, along with fellow sociology faculty member Howard Odum, established the field of “regional sociology”—in their case, an extensive study of the South. The two helped provide a progressive counterweight at UNC in the 1930s to the conservative agrarian philosophy centered with the faculty at Vanderbilt University and expressed in their collection of essays I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition (1930). Rupert B. Vance was born on March 15, 1899, in Plumerville (Conway County), the oldest of four children of Walter Vance and Mary Bayliss Vance. Walter Vance owned a general store, though the Vances lived on …

West, Donald W. (Don)

Donald W. West was a farmer, educator, writer, and folklorist who became a local legend in northwestern Arkansas, especially Fayetteville (Washington County). West moved with his family to the thickly forested mountains, abandoned farmland, and isolated hollows of southern Washington County near Winslow (Washington County) in 1938. He published a memoir about his family’s subsistence farming experience and worked as itinerant teacher. (A different Don West was also a writer and proponent of folk culture and rural life who co-founded the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee, in 1932.) Don West was born in Oklahoma on September 12, 1905, the fourth of five children of John West and Mollie West. West was a resident of Garrett, Oklahoma, and Santa Fe, …

Williams, C. Fred

Dr. C. Fred Williams was a professor of history who chaired the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UA Little Rock) history department through its largest expansion. Williams authored several works on Arkansas and served in many capacities at UA Little Rock; he also volunteered his services as a consultant for the Little Rock School District, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Society, the Old State House Museum, Ouachita Baptist University, the Arkansas Humanities Council, and the Historic Arkansas Museum. Williams was the recipient of the Arkansas Historical Association’s lifetime achievement award. Charles Fredrick Williams was born in Allen, Oklahoma, on December 24, 1943, to Charles H. Williams and Willie Mae Williams. He had two brothers and five sisters. Williams married Glenda …

Wilson, Charles Morrow

A native of Fayetteville (Washington County), Charles Morrow Wilson was a nationally known freelance author. While the majority of his many books and magazine articles were on international trade, agriculture, and medicine topics, a significant number were on Arkansas culture and politics. Charles Wilson was born in Fayetteville on June 16, 1905, to Joseph Dixon and Martha (Mattie) Maude Morrow Wilson. He was educated in Fayetteville Public Schools and graduated from the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville in 1926. Wilson began writing when he was still a student, and author Charles J. Finger became his mentor. Wilson was included in the group of writers, artists, and scientists who frequently gathered at Finger’s home near Fayetteville, and he was associated …

Woodward, Comer Vann

Comer Vann Woodward was arguably the twentieth century’s foremost Southern historian. Although published in the 1950s, his Origins of the New South, 1877–1913 and The Strange Career of Jim Crow remain vital interpretive narratives. C. Vann Woodward was born November 13, 1908, to Hugh (Jack) and Emily (Bess) Woodward in Vanndale (Cross County). During Woodward’s youth, his father was a school administrator in Wynne (Cross County), then Arkadelphia (Clark County), and subsequently Morrilton (Conway County). Woodward graduated from high school in Morrilton in 1926 and enrolled at Henderson-Brown College, a small Methodist institution in Arkadelphia. After two years, he transferred to Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, graduating in 1930 with an AB in philosophy. Inspired by his uncle and namesake, …