Southland College

Southland College

HELENA-WEST HELENA, ARK – The Civil War Roundtable of the Delta will feature University of Arkansas emeritus professor of history, Thomas Kennedy, author of A History of Southland College: The Society of Friends and Black Education in Arkansas. The program is slated for Monday, August 29, at Beth El Heritage Hall, beginning at 6 pm.

Southland College was founded by Indiana Quakers, Alida and Calvin Clark, who came to Helena (Phillips County) in 1864 to care for lost and abandoned black children. While their move was intended to provide temporary relief to orphans, the Clarks stayed for the remainder of their working lives, establishing the school that became the first institution of higher education for African Americans west of the Mississippi River. The school survived six decades of economic adversity and social strife.
After operating as an orphanage and school in Helena for two years, the school was moved to a rural location in Phillips County, with the assistance of the officers and men of the Fifty-sixth Colored Regiment (U.S. Army). In the beginning, Southland, housed in rough plank buildings erected through the voluntary labor of black soldiers, remained a school for orphans. Southland quickly began to attract the children of local black farmers due to the near-obsession of freed slaves to acquire literacy along with the lack of educational opportunities available for black citizens in the Arkansas Delta.

Southland College

Southland College

Enrollment grew from a few dozen to as many as 200 as the school’s reputation began to spread throughout the Arkansas Delta during the 1870s. Enrollment numbers were impacted by the success or failure of the cotton crop upon which the livelihood of rural blacks was based. Black farmers began purchasing or leasing land near the school to secure education for their children. Eventually, a rural community grew up, taking its name from the school it surrounded.

The school closed in 1925 due to lack of funding and growing local alienation. A tiny rural community called Southland still exists in Phillips County, but no physical evidence of the school remains. Nonetheless, Southland College is remembered for the educational and spiritual possibilities it provided for blacks in the Arkansas Delta.

This event is free and open to the public.
For more information, interested persons can call the Delta Cultural Center at (870) 338-4350 or toll free at (800) 358-0972 or visit the DCC online at www.deltaculturalcenter.com.

The Delta Cultural Center shares the vision of all seven agencies of the Department of Arkansas Heritage – to preserve and promote Arkansas heritage as a source of pride and satisfaction. Other agencies within the department are the Historic Arkansas Museum, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, the Old State House Museum, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, the Arkansas Arts Council, the Arkansas State Archives, and the Natural Heritage Commission.