For the first time in the 21-years history of the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, five individuals with connections to Pine Bluff and Jefferson County were among six people inducted Saturday night at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock.
“There’s an extraordinary cross-section of great individuals,” Gov. Mike Beebe said. “There’s a litany of contributions. I am proud to represent the nearly 3 million Arkansans, who honor these six individuals.”
The Pine Bluff/Jefferson County inductees were Gerald Alley, Chief Master Richard Anderson, Morris Hayes, Raye Jean Montague and Willie Roaf.
Alley came from humble beginnings but found professional inspiration from his childhood surroundings in Pine Bluff. Alley said he remembers as a child he remembers watching buildings being constructed on the campus of AM&N College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff). Now a Dallas businessman, he is the founder and president of Con-Real Inc., the largest African-American construction and real estate firm in Texas and the southwest.
“I was inspired by the buildings on campus and impressed by the local businesses [in Pine Bluff],” Alley said. “Once I got to a bigger pond and saw the opportunities around me … I knew I could do it.”
Anderson is bringing opportunities to the inner-city youth through the use of martial arts. The owner of Anderson Taekwondo Center, with locations in Pine Bluff and Little Rock), Anderson said he hopes this honor opens more doors to help young people.
“It is absolutely wonderful,” he said. “It hasn’t fully sunk in yet. It all goes to the good of the inner-city youth, specifically African-American males,” Anderson said. “I hope it opens a lot of doors, maybe even give me a lot of swag.”
Before Hayes wowed crowds with musician Prince, he was just an art student at UAPB. His musical career included being the keyboardist for the Time and New Power Generation. He said he was amazed to be honored by his peers and emphasized the importance of remembering where you came from.
Not afraid of a challenge, Montague rose to be the creator of the first computer-generated draft of a U.S. Naval ship. As a student at AM&N College, she hoped to study engineering, but because of segregation she could not attend the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Although her business degree didn’t stop her from her dreams, when she started working with U.S. Naval research and development she worked beside Harvard and Yale graduates, who taught her about engineering without even realizing it.
“I became an international engineer without having an engineering degree,” Montague said. “It is an honor. When you are known around the world and the people who know you back when … who know your struggle .... Changing challenges and obstacles was my way of life.”
Willie Roaf, a longtime NFL player who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012, is the second member of his family to be inducted. He and his late mother, Judge Andree Layton Roaf, are the first mother and son to be inducted in the hall of fame. He said it felt great following in her footsteps.
“Through playing sports, you can achieve a lot,” Roaf said. “I live to play football, but it has allowed more opportunities. I am very proud to represent my family, Pine Bluff and the state of Arkansas.”
The sixth inductee (posthumous) was Art Porter, Jr., a jazz musician, who died in 1996.