The Pine Bluff Branch of the National Association of University Women recently observed its 69th National Day program at the Hathaway-Howard Fine Arts Center Auditorium & Leedell-Moorehead Art Gallery on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
An annual observance of all branches and sections throughout the United States and Liberia, Africa, NAUW extended homage to the pioneering work of the national founders and past presidents of the organization.
Chair of the National Day committee and past president of the Pine Bluff Branch, Mary E. Benjamin, who is vice chancellor for research and innovative programs at UAPB, was the mistress of ceremonies.
Bettye J. Williams, national second vice president, spoke on the subject, “The Strength of Black Women in NAUW : National to Local.” Assisted by Amanda Wells, Williams profiled three distinguished NAUW leaders. The first to be highlighted was the fifth national president, Hila A. Davis. A native of Wilmington, Del., Davis graduated from Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. in 1917; Howard University in 1925, and the University of Chicago, being the first African American woman to be conferred the Ph.D. in 1953. Davis distinguished herself as the only national president to be elected twice — 1939-1944 and 1957-1961. Her significant contribution was writing the organization’s bylaws.
On the south central sectional level, Frankie G. Early became president of the Alexandria (Louisiana) Branch in 2001 and has coordinated the annual planning/training meeting for more than a dozen years. A volunteer in city government and known as an indefatigable fundraiser, she sponsored Alexandria’s first Ebony Pageant, the first Senior Citizen’s Ball, and a New Year’s Ball.
Last to be lauded was Gardenia C. Ambler. She was born in Kansas City, Mo., and moved to Pine Bluff in 1966. She joined the Pine Bluff Branch in the mid-1970s and became president in 1990-1993. Ambler has worked with children, youth, and adults in Pine Bluff and Jefferson County.
The special feature of the National Day program was a theatrical performance of “Flyin West,” written by Pearl Cleage and directed by Cheryl Collins, director of theatre at UAPB. Based on an all-Black town — Nicodemus, Kan. — and set in 1898, “Flyin West” is a dramatic adaptation of former slaves who took advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862 and went West to build new lives for themselves and their families. Performed by the John McLinn Ross players and Collins (Sophie), character actors were Maranda Barris (Fannie); Samille Palm (Minnie), Twona Frazier (Miss Leah), Obum Nwanko (Frank), and Andrew Spencer III (technician).
Director of the Pine Bluff Branch NAUW Chorale, Bonita Corbin, introduced the NAUW singers who serenaded the audience with “I Believe I Can Fly.”
Birlee Lever, chair of the Woman of the Year committee, together with Earnestine Grant, introduced Josephine Adams as the newly selected “Woman of the Year.” Adams was presented with a large, green plant, a beautifully phrased plaque, and a certificate of appreciation for years of loyal service and commitment to the mission of NAUW. She served as branch chaplain for seven branch presidents.
A reception followed the formal program and play. Serving as hostesses were Bunia Baxter, Ellen Eddings, LaShondra Johnson, Florine McDonald and Tina Owens. An exhibit table of Pine Bluff Branch scrapbooks and other memorabilia was on display.
Members of the National Day Committee were Benjamin, Williams, Liddell, Baxter, Eddings, Johnson and McDonald. Betty Wilkerson of Baton Rouge, La., is the south central sectional director. Dolores Y. Owens of Pennsauken, N.J., is the national president.
The Pine Bluff Branch of the National Association of University Women was founded by the late Katie B. Jackson Pierre and 15 charter members on Feb. 8, 1945, on the campus of Arkansas AM&N College (now UAPB). During the past 69 years, the Pine Bluff Branch has committed itself to planning, devising, and organizing activities for community enrichment in education, civic affairs, and human relations.
For additional information, contact Benjamin at 870-575-8213 or Williams at 870-536-3073.