Religious Figures

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Entry Category: Religious Figures

Adler, Cyrus

Cyrus Adler was a scholar, editor, and Jewish leader with a lifetime commitment to the study of Jewish history and culture. He worked with a number of Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Historical Society, the American Jewish Committee, and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and had a strong influence on American Jewish culture during his lifetime. Cyrus Adler was born in Van Buren (Crawford County) on September 13, 1863, the third of four children of Samuel and Sarah (Sulzberger) Adler. His father worked as a merchant and manager of a nearby cotton plantation. Shortly after Adler’s birth, the Adler family fled the Civil War conditions in Arkansas and relocated first to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and later to New York. …

Alamo, Tony

aka: Tony Alamo Christian Ministries
Tony Alamo was a well-known evangelist who, after a radical conversion to Christianity, founded what is now called Tony Alamo Christian Ministries with his wife, Susan, later establishing its headquarters in Dyer (Crawford County). Widely regarded as a cult, Tony Alamo Christian Ministries was at the center of a number of lawsuits and government actions, and its leader was jailed on a variety of charges, including income tax evasion, the theft of his late wife’s body, and taking underage girls across state lines for sex. Much of the information on Alamo’s early, pre-conversion life is spurious at best, on account of Alamo’s constant exaggerations of his importance and/or sinfulness. He was born Bernie Lazar Hoffman on September 20, 1934, in …

Bales, James David

aka: J. D. Bales
From 1944 to 1980, James David Bales was a professor of Bible and theology at Harding University (formerly Harding College) in Searcy (White County). Both in public and in print, Bales earned a national reputation as a fearsome debater of theological issues and political ideologies, becoming especially well known for his anti-communism stance. J. D. Bales was born on November 5, 1915, in Tacoma, Washington, the fifth of eight children. Soon after his birth, the family moved to Albany, Georgia. Bales was eleven when a train struck and killed his parents. Bales went to live with his paternal grandparents in Fitzgerald, Georgia, until 1930 when he enrolled in the Georgia Military Academy (now Woodward Academy) in College Park, Georgia, where …

Bandini, Pietro

Father Pietro Bandini is most widely remembered in Arkansas for the 1898 founding of Tontitown (Washington County), located in the northwest corner of the state, which he named after Henry de Tonti, an Italian explorer who established, with René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, the first European settlement in Arkansas in 1686. However, the founding of Tontitown is but a regional capstone on a life spent working for the betterment of Italian immigrant communities in the nation. Bandini was born on March 31, 1852, in Forli, which is in the Romagna region of Italy. Little is known about Bandini’s family, described as of the upper class and refined. He is known to have had two older brothers, one of whom …

Biltz, Joseph Henri

The Reverend Joseph H. Biltz, a Roman Catholic priest and human rights activist, was a staunch supporter of social and Church reform in Arkansas. His outspoken advocacy for reform brought him into direct confrontation with both religious and civil authorities. Joseph Henri Biltz was born on May 29, 1930, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Maurice Biltz and Hilda Rumbach Biltz. He studied philosophy at St. John’s Seminary in Little Rock, receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1951. He then completed four years of additional study in theology and was ordained by the Catholic Church in 1955 at St. Andrew’s Cathedral. He went on to earn a master’s degree in theology (1957) and a doctorate in moral theology (1962) from the …

Blake, Charles E.

Charles Edward Blake Sr. is the presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC). He is also pastor of West Angeles Church of God in Christ, which has a membership of more than 25,000. In addition, Blake founded Save Africa’s Children, which provides orphan care programs across the continent of Africa. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2009. Charles E. Blake was born on August 5, 1940, in North Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Junious Augustus Blake and Lula Champion Blake. His father was a native of Camden (Ouachita County) who pastored various churches throughout Arkansas before moving to California. Charles Blake was ordained a minister himself in 1962. He received a BA …

Block, Frances Isaiah Isaacs (Fanny)

Frances (Fanny) Block was the matriarch of the first documented Jewish family to immigrate to what became the state of Arkansas. After courtship and the start of a family in Virginia and New York, Block and her family moved to southwestern Arkansas in search of new economic opportunities. Her willingness to forgo the stability of a religious community on the East Coast and move her family west allowed the family to establish a regional mercantile empire that included businesses in places such as Washington (Hempstead County), Fulton (Hempstead County), and Paraclifta (Sevier County) in Arkansas, as well as in New Orleans, Louisiana, and at several stops along the railroad in Texas from Houston to Dallas. Fanny Block and her family …

Bogard, Benjamin Marcus

Benjamin Marcus Bogard, founder and head of the American Baptist Association, was Arkansas’s leading fundamentalist Christian in the 1920s. In 1928, his efforts resulted in a law banning the teaching of evolution in Arkansas public schools; it remained in place until 1968, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned it. Bogard was born on March 9, 1868, in Hardin County, Kentucky. He was the only son of tobacco tenant farmers M. L. and Nancy Bogard; the couple also had five daughters. In 1873, the Bogards moved to Caseyville, Kentucky, where Bogard attended school, Woodland Baptist Church, and evangelical camp meetings. In February 1885, he was baptized in an ice-covered pond during a church service. In 1887 and 1888, he attended Georgetown …

Booker, Joseph Albert

Joseph Albert Booker—noted editor, educator, and community leader—was for four decades a prominent leader in Arkansas racial relations and a pioneer in African-American education in the state. Joseph Booker was born into slavery on December 26, 1859, in Old Portland, east of modern Portland (Ashley County). He was the son of Albert and Mary (Punchardt) Booker, who were slaves on the large Bayou Bartholomew plantation of John P. Fisher. Booker’s mother died shortly after his birth. According to one source, when Booker was three, his father, a man with “some knowledge of books,” died when his slave master whipped him to death. His father’s crime was urging his fellow slaves to revolt by “teaching them to read.” At the end …

Bosmyer, Peggy Sue

When the Reverend Dr. Peggy Bosmyer was ordained in January 1977 at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock (Pulaski County) by the Right Reverend Christoph Keller Jr., bishop of the Diocese of Arkansas, she was the first woman in the South to be regularly ordained under a new canon as a priest in the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA). Peggy Sue Bosmyer was born on July 26, 1948, in Helena (Phillips County), the daughter of Thomas Bosmyer, who was an insurance adjustor, and Margaret Markland Bosmyer, an elementary school teacher. Her older sister, Judy, had been born in 1944. Bosmyer graduated from Central High School in Helena in 1966. In 1970, she received a BA in …

Brown, Fountain

Fountain Brown was a Methodist preacher who was the first person to be charged and found guilty of violating the Emancipation Proclamation. Charged with having sold several of his slaves back into slavery after they had in fact been freed by President Abraham Lincoln’s order, Brown found himself at the center of a case that reflected the changes that came with the war. For a brief time, it was a celebrated legal matter leading to an active postwar effort to secure a pardon for the physically ailing Brown. Little is known about Fountain Brown’s early years. He is thought to have been born in 1806 or 1807, but the location is unknown. A one-time resident of Tennessee, he had been …

Brown, William Montgomery

The colorful William Montgomery Brown was consecrated as the assistant bishop of the Diocese of Arkansas on June 24, 1898, and soon became bishop after the death of Henry Niles Pierce. In 1925, after openly embracing materialism and communism, Brown became the only bishop in the Episcopal Church ever removed from office because of heresy. These heretical views were presented in his book Communism and Christianism: Banish Gods from Skies and Capitalists from Earth. William Montgomery Brown was born on September 4, 1855, on a farm west of Orrville, Ohio, the son of a maid, Lucina Elzina Cary, and a day laborer, Joseph Morrison Brown. He had a sister and a brother. He became an orphan during the Civil War …

Byrne, Andrew

Andrew Byrne was the first Roman Catholic bishop of Little Rock (Pulaski County), a diocese which then and now encompasses the boundaries of the state of Arkansas. A prelate on the southern frontier, he had few Catholics in his ecclesiastical domain; nevertheless, he planted the Church so deeply that even his death, the Civil War, and the five-year absence of any bishop could not eradicate the faith. Andrew Byrne was born in Navan, a town about forty miles northwest of Dublin, Ireland, the son of Robert and Margery Moore Byrne. There is no exact date of his birth on parish records, though they record that he was baptized on December 3, 1802; with his name being Andrew, he may have …

Carpenter, Cornelius Tyree

Cornelius Tyree (C. T.) Carpenter was an educator, minister, and attorney in northeastern Arkansas. In addition to serving as president of Woodland Baptist College in Jonesboro (Craighead County) and being minister of the First Baptist Church of Marked Tree (Poinsett County), he gained national attention as the attorney for the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union (STFU) from 1935 to 1936. C. T. Carpenter was born on September 5, 1874, in Rockbridge County, Virginia, to John T. Carpenter and Sarah Carpenter. He had three brothers and one sister. His father was a Baptist minister who studied under General Robert E. Lee at Washington College after the Civil War. The family was well established in Virginia and, according to Oren Stephens of Harper’s …

Circuit Riders

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, some ministers served multiple churches spread out over an area known as a circuit. In the nineteenth century, the practice of “circuit riding” was introduced to Arkansas. There were Baptist and Methodist circuit riders, but it was the Methodists in particular who used the term “circuit” to describe the area of service and whose denominational structures did the most to keep track of the work their riders did. The first Methodist circuit rider to enter Arkansas was William Stevenson, who probably entered northeastern Arkansas for the first time around 1809, during his work in the Illinois District of the Tennessee Conference. Stevenson, together with his brother James, began to travel through the settlements of Arkansas in …

Compere, Ebenezer Lee (E. L.)

Ebenezer Lee (E. L.) Compere was the son of pioneer Baptist missionary Lee Compere, who came to Arkansas between 1850 and 1860 because E. L. and brother Thomas H. pastored Baptist churches in western Arkansas. The elder Compere had previously been a missionary in the Creek Nation, having come from England to Jamaica and then the United States with wife Susannah Voysey Compere to do missionary work. E. L. Compere was born on February 6, 1833, near Montgomery, Alabama, shortly before his family moved from Alabama to Mississippi. On July 23, 1849, he was baptized at Montaches Creek Baptist Church in Itawamba County, Mississippi, and in 1852 was called to preach. From 1852 to 1857, Compere was educated at Mercer …

Compere, Lee

Baptist missionary Lee Compere did missionary work with the Creek Nation in Georgia and Alabama. He later joined his sons in Arkansas and assisted them with their own religious work. Lee Compere was born on November 3, 1790, in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, England, to John Compere and Grace Fox Compere. Orphaned at a young age, he was raised by a Baptist family and adopted their faith. On September 23, 1815, he married Susannah Voysey in London. Susannah was a relative of theologian and founder of Methodism John Wesley. She decided to become a missionary and to use her inheritance to fund her missionary work. On October 18, 1815, the Baptist Mission Society of England appointed the couple as missionaries to …

Cone, James Hal

James Hal Cone became known as the father of black liberation theology, which he described as a “theological identity that was accountable to the life, history, and culture of African-American people.” Cone often discussed the impact that growing up in Bearden (Ouachita County) and attending the Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal Church had on his life. Both powerfully influenced his thinking: Bearden for the pain and suffering inflicted on African Americans, and Macedonia as a place where he encountered Jesus. Cone published numerous books on black liberation theology and lectured at more than 1,000 universities and community organizations throughout the United States, Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Born to Charles and Lucy Cone in Fordyce (Dallas County) on …

Duggar Family

aka: 19 and Counting [Television Show]
aka: Counting On [Television Show]
The Duggars are an Arkansas family who became famous on the TLC network show 19 Kids and Counting. The family is known for its strict adherence to the Baptist faith and conservative values, which include restrictions against any birth control methods. However, the Duggars have been criticized by those who believe that such large families are not healthy for children and those who oppose their anti-contraceptive activism. On May 22, 2015, TLC announced that they were pulling all episodes of 19 Kids and Counting after Josh Duggar, the eldest child of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, admitted publicly that he had engaged in acts of child molestation as a teenager; the show was officially cancelled later that year. However, certain of the …

Fitzgerald, Edward Mary

Edward Mary Fitzgerald was the second Roman Catholic bishop of Little Rock (Pulaski County), overseeing a diocese that encompasses the boundaries of the state of Arkansas. As the most historically significant Arkansas Catholic prelate, he was one of the only bishops in the world, and the only English-speaking one, to vote against papal infallibility. As an Arkansas bishop, he strove to attract Catholic immigrants to the state and sought also to evangelize African Americans; these efforts, however, bore little fruit. St. Edward Catholic Church was named in his honor. Although it is known that Edward Fitzgerald was born in the city of Limerick on the west coast of Ireland, his birth certificate fails to reveal his exact date of birth. …

Fletcher, Albert Lewis

Albert Lewis Fletcher was the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock, the only Catholic diocese for the state of Arkansas. He was the first native Arkansan ever to be raised to the rank within the American Catholic episcopacy, and he oversaw Arkansas Catholicism during an era of unprecedented growth and upheaval. Albert Fletcher was born on October 28, 1896, the oldest of four children, to Thomas Fletcher, a physician, and Helen Wehr in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Around the time of their marriage, both parents converted to Catholicism, his father being a former Episcopalian and his mother a former Lutheran. Within a few months of his birth, the family moved first to Paris (Logan County) and then to …

Foucault, Nicolas

Nicolas Foucault was the first Christian missionary to serve among the Quapaw Indians of Arkansas. Nicolas Foucault was born around 1664 in Paris, France. As a young adult, he joined the Seminary of Foreign Missions in Paris but soon left to pursue his ministry in Quebec via La Rochelle, France, on board the Soleil d’Afrique. On June 3, 1688, Foucault arrived in Québec and immediately began to serve as a secretary to Bishop Jean-Baptiste de Saint-Vallier while also continuing his seminary studies. He was ordained to the priesthood on December 3, 1689, and was immediately appointed to serve as curate first, in Contrecoeur, then in the hamlet of Batiscan on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. Here, Foucault presided …

Freeman, George Washington

George Washington Freeman was an Episcopal clergyman who served from 1844 to 1858 as the second missionary bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas. He was the first bishop to reside in the state. His jurisdiction also included Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) and the Episcopal missions in the Republic of Texas. George Freeman was born on June 13, 1789, in Sandwich, Massachusetts, to a strict Congregationalist pastor, the Reverend Nathaniel Freeman, and his first wife, Tryphosa Colton. He was the youngest of their twelve children. His father claimed that Freeman completed reading the entire Bible between the ages of six and seven. Freeman married Ann Yates Gholson of Virginia in 1818, and they had three sons. He was acquainted early …

Graham, David Crockett (D. C.)

David Crockett (D. C.) Graham was a Baptist missionary and pioneer anthropologist in southwestern China. Over the course of almost four decades in Sichuan Province, Graham, through his publications and museum work, introduced to the English-speaking world the cultures of several little known peoples, and introduced modern archaeology in the region. D. C. Graham was born in Green Forest (Carroll County) on March 21, 1884, to the farming family of William Edward Graham and Elizabeth (Atchley) Graham; he was one of nine children, five of whom died young. After his mother died, the family moved to the Walla Walla, Washington, area when Graham was about four. He attended Whitman College in Walla Walla, where he was active in the Young Men’s …

Graves, Lawrence Preston

Lawrence Preston Graves served as the second auxiliary Roman Catholic bishop for the Diocese of Little Rock, which encompasses the state of Arkansas. Graves was also the second native Arkansan to be elevated to the Catholic hierarchy. Lawrence Graves was born on May 4, 1916, in Texarkana (Miller County); his parents, Louis Graves and Agnes Fant Graves, were local grocers. They had two sons and two daughters. Raised in St. Edward’s Church in his hometown, he attended all twelve grades in the local parish school and was a member of the first graduating high school class. At eighteen, Graves entered St. John’s Seminary in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and, two years later, Bishop John B. Morris sent him to the …

Hagerty, Thomas J.

Thomas J. Hagerty was a Roman Catholic priest and social activist. He was originally involved in the Socialist Party of America (SPA), an association that included some early interactions with the active Arkansas chapter of the party. However, he eventually left the socialists and embraced the revolutionary syndicalism of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), an organization he helped to establish. Thomas Hagerty was born in 1862, but there is little information about his life prior to his ordination in Chicago, Illinois, in 1895. While there were rumors that he was a socialist prior to his ordination, his politics became problematic for the church soon after he entered the priesthood. He was transferred to the Archdiocese of Dallas, Texas, …

Hoelzeman, George Raymond

George Raymond Hoelzeman is a liturgical artist who has gained national acclaim for his creation of church furniture, statues, and relief woodcarvings, particularly those depicting the Stations of the Cross (also known as the Way for the Cross) for Catholic churches throughout the United States. George Hoelzeman was born on April 24, 1963, in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the eldest of four sons born to Aloys Joseph (A. J.) Hoelzeman, who was a carpenter, and Therese Huber Hoelzeman, a nurse and music teacher. He grew up in Morrilton (Conway County) and received his primary and secondary education at Sacred Heart School there. After graduating from high school, Hoelzeman entered St. Joseph Seminary in Covington, Louisiana, graduating in 1985 with a …

Hogan, Richard Nathaniel

Richard Nathaniel Hogan was one of the most influential preachers and essayists among black Churches of Christ in the twentieth century. Richard Hogan was born in Monroe County on November 30, 1902, the third child of Willie Hogan and Emma “Cathey” Hogan. He developed his skills as an orator and writer under the tutelage of George Philip Bowser, a black evangelist and educator from Tennessee. When Hogan was a child, his father died. He and his mother began living with her parents, who were devout members of the Church of Christ in Blackton (Monroe County). Perceiving few prospects for advancement or even secondary education in the racially oppressive Arkansas Delta, they allowed Hogan at age fourteen to move to Tennessee …

Hoover, Theressa

Theressa Hoover worked for human rights and unity through the United Methodist Church for nearly fifty years. Born in Arkansas, she represented those who, in the words of her 1974 monograph, were in “triple jeopardy”: female, African American, and Christian. Hoover worked for justice and empowerment for women and children around the globe. Her influence has been far-reaching, as she provided inspiration for others through her words and actions. Theressa Hoover was born in Fayetteville (Washington County) on September 7, 1925. She was one of five children of James C. Hoover and Rissie Vaughn. Her mother died when Hoover was a small child, and she was reared by her father, who worked for many years at City Hospital in Fayetteville. …

Huckabee, Mike

aka: Michael Dale Huckabee
Michael Dale Huckabee served as the forty-fourth governor of Arkansas. His personal visibility helped him to become the first Republican governor elected to two four-year terms in Arkansas, but he did little to promote the growth of a more expanded two-party system in Arkansas. His policy legacies may well be in the areas of education, environment, and health. Mike Huckabee was born on August 24, 1955, in Hope (Hempstead County), the son of Dorsey W. and Mae (Elder) Huckabee. Huckabee’s father worked as a firefighter, and his mother was employed by the Louisiana Transit Company. In 1965, he joined Garrett Memorial Baptist Church and became involved in church activities. His faith continued to play a significant role in his private …

Huie, Janice Riggle

Janice Riggle Huie was the first woman to serve as United Methodist bishop in Arkansas and the second female bishop in the eight-state South Central Jurisdiction, which includes Arkansas. Janice Kay Riggle was born on December 15, 1946, in Beeville, Texas, to Frankie Rosalie Luthringer Riggle and James Riggle. She is the eldest of three sisters, all of whom were raised on the family’s farm and ranch. Huie attended First United Methodist Church in Beeville with her family. After graduating cum laude from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English in 1969, Huie enrolled in the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, despite having never encountered a female clergy member. She …

Humbard, Alpha Rex Emmanuel

Alpha Rex Emmanuel Humbard was a traveling evangelist from Arkansas who became a well-known gospel singer, pastor, and pioneer in Christian television. Born on August 13, 1919, in Little Rock (Pulaski County), Rex Humbard was one of six children of Pentecostal evangelists Alpha and Martha (Childers) Humbard. In the summer of 1932, young Humbard watched a Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus tent fill with crowds in Hot Springs (Garland County). Although he would not attend such “worldly” diversions, he decided that he wanted to attract crowds like that to share the gospel. At age thirteen, he began broadcasting on KTHS radio in Hot Springs by singing gospel songs and inviting listeners to come hear his father preach at …

Hunter, Andrew

Andrew Hunter, one of the earliest and longest-surviving itinerant preachers in Arkansas, was an influential, popular, and highly respected leader in the development of Methodism in Arkansas. He served in almost every capacity in the Methodist organization and was involved in most of the historic events in the Methodist Church during his fifty-five years of active ministry and subsequent services after retirement in 1889. Andrew Hunter was born on December 26, 1813, in Ballymoney County, Antrim, Ireland. His mother converted from Catholicism to Presbyterianism before the family migrated to Pennsylvania, while he was still very young. The attentive ministrations of a Methodist preacher during the illness and subsequent death of Andrew’s father led to the family’s conversion to Methodism. Hunter converted on …