The Arkansas Black Hall of Fame was founded in 1992 to recognize extraordinary African American Arkansans. Now in its 30th year, the annual celebration has grown from a grass-roots effort located in the basement of Little Rock’s Robinson Center to a glamorous event that fills the center’s art deco-inspired, 2,200-seat performance hall, gracing the same stage that’s seen epic performances by entertainers like Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong.
Since the hall of fame began, 164 Arkansans have been honored. Some past inductees include Lottie Shackleford, Little Rock’s first female mayor; Kristin Lewis, an international opera diva; William Grant Still, the first Black composer to have his work performed by a major orchestra; and Joycelyn Elders, a former US surgeon general.
Together, they present a surprising and inspiring portrait of Arkansans who’ve triumphed in their respective fields both at home and around the globe. The full list of honorees reveals dozens of individuals – doctors, artists, academics, civil rights champions, and more – who have come from humble beginnings right here in The Natural State.
This year’s 30th anniversary class of inductees includes:
Sherman Banks of Little Rock - International Citizen Diplomat, Honorary Consul General to Ghana, and Arts Education Patron
Fluent in English and Italian, Banks has been invited to numerous foreign countries and various educational, civic, and government organizations across the United States. He has authored educational programs for and hosted world leaders from countries around the globe.
Dr. Joe L. Hargrove, FACC from Grady - Scientist, Educator, Philanthropist, and Medical Practitioner
Dr. Hargrove is a member of several national and local professional societies, including the American Medical Association, National Medical Association, American Heart Association, Arkansas Medical, Dental, and Pharmaceutical Association. He is also a past Chairman of the Board of the Association of Black Cardiologists.
Hattie Hill from Moro - International Business Consultant, Entrepreneur, and Philanthropic Leader
Born and reared in Moro, Arkansas, Hill grew up on a farm with her mother, Carrie Flowers, and five sisters. She credits her solid Arkansas upbringing with helping to build character at an early age and instilling virtues of hard work and respect for others—traits that have served her well throughout her career. Hill graduated from Arkansas State University, earning her bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s in rehabilitation psychology.
Gertrude Newsome Jackson from Gum Bottom (Posthumous) - Educator and Social Justice and Civil Rights Leader
Jackson was a community activist. In 1965, her community service intensified after numerous futile attempts to push the Marvell School Board to rectify plumbing problems at the segregated school in Turner. Her husband organized the Black residents to boycott the school. News of the action hit the state newspapers and drew the attention of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The group descended upon Jonesridge, Arkansas, and helped to orchestrate a grassroots civil rights movement to desegregate the Marvell School District. The six-week boycott of the Marvell School District was successful.
Ketty Lester from Hope - TV & Motion Picture Actress, Singer, Songwriter & Recording Artist
Lester sang professionally at the renowned Purple Onion Night Club in San Francisco under the stage name Ketty Lester. She headlined the opening of the Purple Onion in Hollywood and appeared at clubs such as the Village Vanguard in New York City. She sang in East Coast clubs from Boston to Baltimore. She also toured Europe as a singer with the Cab Calloway orchestra.
James Thrower from Camden - NFL Star and Business, Philanthropic and Civic Leader
In 1989, Thrower and his wife, Marla, were blessed to open their first McDonald’s restaurant at the corner of Mack Avenue and Interstate 75 in Detroit, Michigan. Since becoming a McDonald’s owner 32 years ago, he has left an indelible mark on the local and national McDonald’s communities. All four of his children are McDonald’s owner-operators. He has taught them the importance of treating everyone with respect and living a humble and appreciative life.
The organization will celebrate its 30th anniversary with a gala dinner on October 15 at Robinson Center. Tickets are available via Ticketmaster.