Tyronza museum celebrates grand opening Oct. 6

Thursday, September 28, 2006
H. L. Mitchell poses with locals in front of his dry cleaning business in Tyronza, 1933. (Photo courtesy of the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill )

Tribune Editor

Opening a museum is hard work, but ask the volunteers responsible and they will quickly say their labor was worth every minute. They are thrilled that the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum in Tyronza will be celebrating its grand opening on Friday, Oct. 6.

"I'm very proud of the work that has been completed on the museum," said Marion Bearden, mayor of Tyronza. "I think it's a very positive addition to the community."

The museum is located in the historic building that housed the dry cleaning business of H. L. Mitchell and the service station of Clay East, two organizers of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union in 1934. The building, which served as unofficial headquarters for the union, has been renovated utilizing grants from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council (ANCRC) and a "We the People" Challenge Grant through the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The highlight of the day, a dedication ceremony and ribbon cutting, will take place at 2:15 p.m. Participants will include ASU President Les Wyatt, Tyronza Mayor Marian Bearden, Arkansas Land Commissioner Mark Wilcox, and other platform dignitaries.

Grand Opening events will begin at 10 a.m. with an overview of tenant farming and the Southern Tenant Farmers Union (STFU) titled "Raggedy, Raggedy Are We," a reference to one of the songs written in the 1930s by STFU member John Handcox. Presenters are Dr. Orville Vernon Burton, University Distinguished Teacher/Scholar at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and Dr. Mark Allan Jackson, Visiting Assistant Professor of English at DePauw University.

A panel discussion, "Heirs of the Movement," will begin at 11 a.m. and features children of 1930s STFU leaders. Participants are Sam Mitchell of Calgary, Canada, son of H. L. Mitchell; Jack East of Battle Creek, Mich., son of Clay East; and Shirley Whitfield Farmer of Vinita Park, Mo., daughter of Missouri Bootheel demonstration organizer Owen Whitfield.

After a Sharecroppers' Luncheon, a 1 p.m. panel titled "Roll the Union On" (another John Handcox song reference) will discuss the legacy of the STFU and its impact on later labor and civil rights movements. Panelists include Dr. Nan Elizabeth Woodruff, professor of modern U. S. history at The Pennsylvania State University; Dr. Jeannie Whayne, professor and chair of the Department of History at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, and Dr. C. Calvin Smith, emeritus professor of history at Arkansas State University.

The 2:15 p.m. dedication ceremony will be followed by a reception and tours of the museum from 3 to 4:30 p.m. An open house and free public tours also will be offered on Saturday, Oct. 7, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.

Exhibits at the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum include historic photographs, artifacts related to tenant farming, oral history excerpts, 1930s newsreel footage, and interactive exhibits featuring STFU songs, poems, and interviews with former union leaders. The exhibits were developed in conjunction with the ASU Museum and the ASU Heritage Studies Ph.D. program.

"I believe the museum will be instrumental for educational purposes to provide our children with a history of how cotton has evolved through the years and the role it's played in our town," Bearden said.

According to Thelma Jett, one of four local residents helping to get the museum established the audio history recording that will play in the museum is by Poinsett County Assessor Johnny Rye, Jr. Other organizers include John Austin, Barbara Ross and former mayor Drexil Gill.

"We believe the museum will appeal to the entire delta area," Jett said.

Everyone is invited to stop by the museum on Friday, Oct. 6.

The museum will be open from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and by appointment on Saturdays. Special programs can be arranged for school groups. After the grand opening weekend, admission is a $5 donation, or $3 for senior citizens and groups of 10 or more.

For more information about the museum contact Tyronza City Hall at 487-2168.

"I believe the museum will be instrumental for educational purposes to provide our children with a history of how cotton has evolved through the years and the role it's played in our town," Bearden said.

According to Thelma Jett, one of four local residents helping to get the museum established the audio history recording that will play in the museum is by Poinsett County Assessor Johnny Rye, Jr. Other organizers include John Austin, Barbara Ross and former mayor Drexil Gill.

"We believe the museum will appeal to the entire delta area," Jett said.

Everyone is invited to stop by the museum on Friday, Oct. 6.

For more information about the museum contact Tyronza City Hall at 487-2168.

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