Religious Figures

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Entry Category: Religious Figures

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 …

Hunter, Joseph Boone

Joseph Boone Hunter was Director of Human Services at the World War II–era Japanese American Relocation Center in Rohwer (Desha County) and the founding minister of Pulaski Heights Christian Church; in addition, he served on the faculty of Little Rock Junior College, taught continuing education courses for teachers for the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), and became the first administrator of the Arkansas Council of Churches. He was also an interim minister in twenty-seven churches, mostly in Arkansas. Joe Hunter was born on December 27, 1886, to John W. and Mary Frances Compton Hunter on a farm near Allen, Texas. He was the ninth of fifteen children and one of seven who received advanced education degrees. His …

Jasper, Rickey Lane

Rickey Lane Jasper is the highest-ranking African American ever to serve in the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He has also had a career as a minister, serving as a pastor at his church in the United States while pursuing seminary studies both at home and abroad. He is a member of the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame. Rickey L. Jasper was born in Parkdale (Ashley County) on July 28, 1963. His mother, Louisie Mae Grayson, and her husband, Kirt Grayson, raised him and his siblings in the small town. He graduated from Hamburg High School before heading off to college. Although he had planned to join the military after graduation, the academically inclined Jasper instead decided to join his …

Johnston, Lewis, Jr.

Lewis Johnston Jr. was the first African American ordained as a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church and the founder (with his wife) of the Richard Allen Institute in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), a school black students. He was also a teacher, writer, and newspaper publisher. He worked with Professor Joseph Carter Corbin and the Reverend Elias Camp Morris during a time of major transformation in the development of education for African Americans. Four of his sons were killed during the Elaine Massacre in 1919. Lewis Johnston Jr. was born free on December 12, 1847, in Blairsville, Pennsylvania, to Lewis Johnston (1805–1881) and Jane Bronson Johnston (1810–1897). His father had been born a slave in Derry, Pennsylvania, and later became …

Jones, Willa Saunders

Willa Saunders Jones grew up in Little Rock (Pulaski County) during the first decades of the twentieth century before moving to Chicago, Illinois, where she became a prominent religious and cultural leader. Her crowning achievement was a passion play (a dramatization of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection), which she wrote in the 1920s and produced for more than five decades in churches and eventually prestigious civic theaters. The play featured top musical talent, including Dinah Washington and Jones’s close friend Mahalia Jackson, and drew support from such prominent figures as the Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. and Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley. Her success in music as a soloist, accompanist, and choral director and in drama stemmed from early experiences in …

Kearney, James and Ethel

Thomas James (T. J.) Kearney (1906–2013), and his wife, Ethel Virginia Curry Kearney (1917–1982), were cotton sharecroppers. They were recognized for their contributions to childhood education and Christian service by the state of Arkansas; Johnson Publishing Company of Chicago, Illinois; President William J. Clinton; and the country of Israel. Of the couple’s nineteen children, eighteen were college graduates. A number of their children served the state of Arkansas and the U.S. government in leadership roles. T. J. and Ethel Kearney are members of the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame. T. J. Kearney was born June 25, 1906, to Thomas Clayton (T. C.) Kearney and Cynthia Davis Kearney in Lake Village (Chicot County). His parents were itinerant farmers. T. J. was …

Lay, Henry Champlin

The Right Reverend Henry Champlin Lay was the third missionary bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas. The diocese was land the Church defined as also including Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) and what would later become the states of New Mexico and Arizona. Lay was also bishop of the Diocese of Arkansas when it was allied with the Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America. He again served the original missionary territory when the national church reunited in 1865. Henry Champlin Lay was born on December 6, 1823, in Richmond, Virginia. He was the son of John Olmsted Lay and Lucy May Lay. He was educated in Richmond and New York City. Lay graduated from the University of Virginia …

Lee, Burwell

Burwell Lee came to Arkansas Territory from Tennessee in 1830 as a preacher in the Methodist Episcopal Church and a missionary to the Indians. Because he organized the Methodist Society at Batesville (Independence County) in 1835, which hosted the first session of the new Arkansas Conference of the church the following year, he is referred to as one of the fathers of the Methodist Church in Arkansas. Burwell Lee was born on October 20, 1809, in Davidson County, Tennessee. His father was Braxton Lee, who had come to Davidson County from Virginia around 1796. In Davidson County records, there is a marriage for Braxton Lee to Polly Hunter on May 20, 1808, although it is uncertain if these are Lee’s …

Lindsey, Donnie Lee, Sr.

Donnie Lee Lindsey, longtime bishop within the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) in Arkansas and noted businessman, founded the regionally famous Lindsey’s Barbecue in North Little Rock (Pulaski County). He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2015. Donnie Lee Lindsey was born in Bluff City (Nevada County) on April 17, 1924, to Newton Lindsey and Anna Lindsey. His father was a sharecropper. By the 1930 census, he had one brother and four sisters. The family moved to the Maumelle (Pulaski County) area when Lindsey was four years old. In an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Lindsey described himself as a rebellious youth who dropped out of school, only returning at age seventeen to attend the …

Lindsey, Elijah (Eli)

The Reverend Elijah (Eli) Lindsey was an important figure in early Arkansas Methodism. At age eighteen, living near the present town of Jesup (Lawrence County), he traveled and organized the Spring River Circuit and is thus celebrated as the first to preach and spread the message of Methodism in Arkansas. Eli Lindsey was born in 1797 in Rutherford County, North Carolina, to James William Lindsey Jr. and Rachel Burkett Lindsey. His father fought with the patriots at the significant Battle of Kings Mountain on October 7, 1780. By 1790, these families had moved to Spartanburg County, South Carolina, and they resided in Rutherford County, North Carolina, by 1800. Lindsey’s family gradually moved to Christian County, Kentucky, where his uncle Carlton …

Long, Isaac Jasper

Isaac Jasper Long was a Presbyterian minister from South Carolina who helped found Arkansas College (now Lyon College) in Batesville (Independence County) and served as its first president. Isaac Long was on born February 23, 1834, in Anderson District, South Carolina, the son of Isaac and Lettie Hamilton Long. Orphaned at fourteen, he supported himself as a laborer and tutor. He obtained his education at Reverend James Leland Kennedy’s Thalian Academy in South Carolina. Under the sponsorship of Reverend David Humphreys, he was able to attend Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, where he graduated in 1858. He remained at Danville to pursue his theological studies at Danville Seminary and also attended Columbia Seminary in South Carolina. On August 30, 1859, …

Lucey, John Michael

John Michael Lucey was an Irish Catholic former Confederate soldier who became a priest after the Civil War and took an interest in civil rights for African Americans. Speaking out against lynching and separate-coach laws and establishing the Colored Industrial Institute in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), Lucey was a progressive voice for African Americans in Arkansas. Lucey also promoted Arkansas as a home for Catholic immigrants, which made him a target of anti-Catholic sentiment. John Michael Lucey was born on September 29, 1843, in Troy, New York, to John and Brigid Lucey, both Irish immigrants. The Luceys also had two daughters and had lost another son in infancy. While living in Troy, the Luceys heard from a priest about an …

Lyon, Aaron Woodruff

Aaron Woodruff Lyon was an early Arkansas settler and pioneer educator who founded the first academy to be chartered by the state of Arkansas and was instrumental in the development of Batesville in Independence County and Elizabeth in Jackson County. Aaron Lyon was born on July 11, 1797, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the son of Aaron and Joanna Hatfield Lyon. During the War of 1812, he served in Captain Altman’s Pennsylvania Militia. In 1824, he graduated from Union College in Schenectady, New York. He entered Princeton Theological Seminary in 1825 and completed the full three-year curriculum. After completing his studies in 1828, his health forced him to move south. Lyon accompanied Major Edward Duval to Lower Township (Crawford County), where …

MacKrell, James “Uncle Mac”

James “Uncle Mac” MacKrell made a name for himself in Arkansas, first through radio and then through politics. Known as “Uncle Mac” to his adolescent radio audience and as a radio evangelical to others, he is perhaps most remembered for his two campaigns for governor of Arkansas, in 1948 and in 1970. James MacKrell was born in Houston, Texas, on August 8, 1902. He lived in Texas until 1929, and there he attended primary and secondary schools as well as Southern Methodist University in Dallas. After moving to Arkansas in 1929, MacKrell began his career in radio in Fayetteville (Washington County). In 1930, he moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) and accepted a job at KLRA. In 1934, MacKrell began …

Mason, Charles Harrison

An outstanding preacher and the founder of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), the largest African-American Pentecostal denomination of the twentieth century, Charles Harrison “Bishop” Mason ordained both black and white clergy in the early 1900s, when few did so. Mason was baptized, licensed, ordained in Arkansas, and he preached his first sermon in Preston (Faulkner County). Charles Mason was born on September 8, 1866, on the Prior Farm near Bartlett, Tennessee. His parents, tenant farmers Jeremiah “Jerry” Mason and Eliza Mason, had been converted to Christianity while they were slaves and attended the Missionary Baptist Church. Mason had two brothers and one sister. When Mason was twelve, a yellow fever epidemic forced his family to move from Tennessee …

McDonald, Andrew Joseph

Andrew Joseph McDonald served as the fifth Roman Catholic bishop of Little Rock (Pulaski County)—a diocese that encompasses the boundaries of the state of Arkansas—from 1972 to 2000. During his tenure, the Catholic Church in Arkansas witnessed significant growth. In 1970, Catholics numbered 55,283 (or 2.8 percent) out of a total state population of 1,923,000. However, in the 1990s, the number of Catholics in Arkansas ballooned, and by 2000, they constituted 93,480 (or 3.4 percent) out of a total state population of 2,643,400. This growth was fed mainly by Catholics from other states retiring to Arkansas, coinciding with a Hispanic influx, primarily from Mexico. Andrew McDonald was born on October 24, 1923, in Savannah, Georgia, the eleventh of twelve children …

Meek, John Alexander

A doctor, minister, and landowner, John Alexander Meek was one of the leaders in establishing Baptist churches. He is credited by The Baptist Encyclopedia as being the founder of nearly all of the early Baptist churches in south Arkansas and north Louisiana. John Meek was likely born on April 16, 1791 (though some records show the years 1790 and 1792), in Laurens County, South Carolina, the sixth of seven children, three of whom became ministers and medical doctors. Details of his early education and medical training are not known. Meek married Sarah “Sally” Spraggins on December 12, 1809, in Abbeville District, South Carolina. Sally Meek died on December 13, 1825, in Laurens County; two of their five children also died …

Millar, Alexander Copeland

Alexander Copeland Millar was a prominent Methodist minister, educator (elected one of the nation’s youngest college presidents), and publisher. Alexander Millar was born May 17, 1861, in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, to William John Millar and Ellen Caven. His father engaged in the drug business in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, until the great fire of April 10, 1845, destroyed at least one third of the city, including his drug business and his family’s home. Later, William Millar tried his hand at being an inventor. In 1867, he moved his family to Missouri, where he bought a farm near Brookfield in Linn County. In 1885, Alexander Millar graduated from the Methodist-affiliated Central College in Fayette, Missouri. Four years later, he earned an MA from Central …

Mitchell, Richard Bland

The Right Reverend Richard Bland Mitchell was the eighth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas. During his episcopate from 1938 through 1956, his leadership and administrative talent greatly improved the health of the weakened diocese he inherited. He was instrumental in creating a training and conference center on Petit Jean Mountain, named Camp Mitchell in his honor. His stance in agreement with the U.S. Supreme Court’s desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education set the stage for further Episcopal civil rights work in Arkansas. Richard Bland Mitchell (known as Bland) was born in Rolla, Missouri, on July 26, 1887, to Ewing Young Mitchell and Corinne Medley Mitchell. Mitchell attended the Rolla public schools and then the Sewanee Grammar …

Morris, Elias Camp

Elias Camp Morris was an African-American minister who, in 1895, became president of the National Baptist Convention (NBC), the largest denomination of black Christians in the United States. Recognized by white Arkansans and the nation as a leader of the black community, he often served as a liaison between black and white communities on both the state and national level. He was also an important leader in the Arkansas Republican Party. Morris was born a slave on May 7, 1855, in Murray County, Georgia, the son of James and Cora Cornelia Morris. In 1864–1865, he simultaneously attended grammar schools in Dalton, Georgia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee. From 1866, he attended school in Stevenson, Alabama, and in 1874–1875, he attended Nashville Normal …

Morris, John Baptist

John Baptist Morris was the third Roman Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock, which still corresponds to the political boundaries of Arkansas. Known as a gifted orator, Bishop Morris served for four decades as Arkansas’s Catholic leader while the diocese underwent tremendous institutional growth. This was accomplished as the U.S. went through two world wars and a massive economic depression. John Baptist Morris was born on June 29, 1866, on farm near Hendersonville, Tennessee, the eldest son of John Morris and Anne Morrissey, both immigrants from Ireland. Morris received his first formal education at St. Mary’s College in Lebanon, Kentucky. It is not clear what degree Morris earned, for in 1887, he returned to live with his family, …

Norful, Smokie

aka: Willie Ray Norful Jr.
Smokie Norful—a popular pastor in Chicago, Illinois, and a Grammy Award–winning gospel singer—spent most of his developing years in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) and is one of the most commercially successful gospel recording artists to have emerged from Arkansas. Born Willie Ray Norful Jr. in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on October 31, 1975, to the Reverend W. R. Norful and Teresa Norful, Norful is the oldest of three boys. Like so many other African-American gospel singers, he found church to be a nurturing environment in which his musical skills could be honed. At a 2012 taping of the Trinity Broadcast Network’s flagship program, Praise the Lord, Norful joked before a studio audience about growing up as a “P. K.” (preacher’s kid) …

Ogden, Dunbar H., Jr.

Dunbar Hunt Ogden Jr. was a Presbyterian minister who played an important role in the effort to desegregate Central High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County) in the mid-twentieth century. His support for the Little Rock Nine was controversial, and his efforts split his congregation. Ultimately, faced with diminishing support, Ogden resigned his pastorate and left Arkansas, taking over a church in West Virginia and eventually retiring in California. Dunbar Ogden Jr. was born on August 15, 1902, in Columbus, Mississippi. One of seven children born to Dunbar H. Ogden, who was a minister, and Grace Augusta Cox Ogden, Ogden was brought up in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Atlanta, Georgia. He attended Boys High School in Atlanta before going to Davidson …