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El Dorado or Union County from 1929 to 1959: The Good Old Days by Pete Sims

Life for Blacks was hard.  I can truly say there was no welfare as we know it today.  We were taught to share whatever we had with others.  There were no locks on doors or anything.  I don’t have the time to share with you about hog killing time, churning the milk to make butter and all those good things we did.  All I can say is young people today is blessed. . .

In the good old days as we say, all the merchandise came to El Dorado by train.  At that time, we had three railroads:  Missouri Pacific, Rock  Island and the E&W.  Only a few families had cars.  Most of them had a horse or mule and a wagon.  At the end of Hill Street is a watering trough that people used to water their stock.  It is still there now.  The old building where El Dorado Glass is located today was Griffin Auto Company.  On the east side was the barn for the horses.  Some of the finest you ever seen.  Abe Griffin owned them.  Bancorp South’s south parking lot was Randolph Hotel.  Across the street was Garrett Hotel.  The only buildings left are the Rialto Theater, Ritchie Grocery Company and Griffin Auto Building.  The city of El Dorado was six blocks square around the present court house.  The first two Baptist churches in El Dorado were First Baptist on Main Street and First Baptist on Cordell.  Now, if you didn’t own a horse or a car, you had to use the TYTW Express (take your time and walk).  Now most of us in the ‘good old days’ used that expression because it was the best transportation available.

Now I am going to talk a little about El Dorado or Union County.  If I tell all the things I witnessed as a black boy growing up, we will be here all evening.  I was born in the building that today houses Sims Mortuary on May 11, 1924 at 11:00 a.m.  I was delivered by Dr. E. L. Dunning.   All black children born in the good old days were born at home and mostly delivered by mid-wives.  Blacks had their place:  we attended all back schools, churches, eating places, hotels and every thing.  At our court house, there was a black fountain to drink from which was marked “colored water”.  There were black restrooms to use.  Everything was separate.

All the Negro or Black children attended either two schools:  Fairview Elementary (grades 1-8) or Booker T. Washington High (grades 1-12).  There were no buses.  We all used the TYTW Express.  All the children in Fairview, Douglas, Rock Island and Fordville used the same express come rain, shine or snow.

We had to go to school.  We were taught that you must go to school in order to be some body in life.  Our parents worked hard to see we went to school every day.  We had no excuses and you didn’t go home and say anything about a teacher.  They would tell you they sent you to school to learn not to criticize.  You kept your mouth closed if you wanted to live another day.  Through it all, the Lord blessed us to be here today to tell you where we come from.

There were more than 300 Black businesses in the city limits of El Dorado up until about 1960.   Some of you here today, parent or grand parents, worked at these business in order that you could get an education.

I remember that our parents and grand parents prayed everyday and night to the Lord saying “Lord, help me to make things better for my children”.

Finally, the Lord answered.  When he did, we forgot about what and who brought us from poverty to where we are today.

Well, there is not much to say about El Dorado and Union County today.  All I can say is we lost it all.  We don’t want nothing; don’t have nothing.  All the young people say “Man I got Michael Jordan tennis shoes on my feet”.  But there is nothing in their heads.  “They won’t hire me because I am Black”.  Well, I stopped by to tell you your problem is you are uneducated and unskilled.

El Dorado and Union County tomorrow:  Well, I feel that we as Blacks must finish high school and college in order to survive.  The young men will have to pull their pants up on their bodies; hold their heads up and say “I am somebody”.  The young ladies must let their dresses down; fix their hair; take off those slides and tell the young men that they are somebody.  The young people must show the world that they got their act together.  Do something that is positive everyday of their lives.

I shall close by using the words that Dr. Martin Luther King used over and over again:  “We shall over come someday”.

Note:  This speech was given by Pete Sims at the Emancipation Proclamation Service  sponsored by the South Arkansas African American Historical Society.

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