Pine Bluff celebrates in style

As the 175th Pine Bluff anniversary parade slowed to a halt on Main Street to wait for a passing train, Anderson’s Taekwondo Center members Florence Wright, a second-degree black belt, and first-degree black belt Tyler Brown performed a few throws for the crowd.

Wright flipped Brown over her head, not once but twice.

They were part of about three dozen marching bands, businesses, politicians and floats traveling from Harding Avenue to the Jefferson County Courthouse on Saturday morning. Overhead a formation of antique and experimental planes from Grider Field Airport roared, leaving impressive vapor trails to mark the festivities.

From the sidelines, Broadmoor Elementary School second-grader Jamarquis Stephens watched and waited for his two brothers who were performing with the school’s drill team.

“They’re good,” he said.

Spectator Peggy Matlock agreed that the youngsters were enthusiastic, but more importantly, she described the kids as “talented.” She joked that the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s Marching Band members, who had already played their way by, might want to watch out.

The 34th Street Elementary School team took home the first-place trophy in the parade’s drill-team competition. Watson Chapel came in first in the high school band division.

Matlock said she was impressed with the two-day celebration.

“Last night’s Music on Main was great and the parade is wonderful,” she said.

Mary Liddell was one of about 50 volunteers who worked behind the scenes for the last four months to make sure the day went off without a hitch.

“We did a lot of work in a short period of time,” she said, adding that she wished there had been a larger turnout for the parade.

With possibly 500-plus lining Main Street, Parks and Recreation Director April Layher, who helped organize the parade, said she was pleased with the turnout and that the city is considering undertaking a similar celebration next year.

“It was something new so we didn’t know what to expect. Of course, next year’s theme will be different,” Layher said.

Liddell said optimistically: “We will be bigger and better next year.”

Bringing history to life

Later Saturday afternoon, vehicles — mostly trucks pulling boat trailers — filled the Officer John R. Fallis Water Front Meeting Facility parking lot in Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Regional Park, but for a few hours modern sounds gave way to rifle fire and cannon blasts.

After the morning parade, approximately 200 people gathered inside the facility for special historical displays, while outside a Civil War re-enactment raged.

In Saturday’s’battle, fought by the Confederate’s 2nd Arkansas Infantry Company H, the Union lost the day.

Company sergeant Richard Wilson drove from Jonesboro for the event.

“My brothers called so I answered,” he said after the battle.

Many in the company were also from around the state, as well as a number of individuals from Pine Bluff.

Pine Bluff historian Doyle Taylor set up his telegraph equipment and talked about the city’s role in the Civil War, while cannon builder and author William “Bill” Farmer signed copies of his new book, “From Illinois to Arkansas.”

As Company H prepared for a second volley of cannon fire, 3-year-old Gabriella Ogles covered her ears and frowned.

Nearby Edmund Williams and James Honorable watched intently.

“The re-enactment was great. I really enjoyed it,” Williams said.

Honorable believes these staged battles have value.

“You never know where you’re going, if you don’t know where you’ve been,” he said.

Around 2:30 p.m., a number of city and state officials gathered as the Arbor Day Foundation named Pine Bluff a Tree City USA.

After receiving the honor, Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth proclaimed, “I’m Pine Bluff proud.”

A gala affair

The anniversary celebration continued Saturday night as nearly 460 guests filed into the Pine Bluff Convention Center’s arena while the UAPB’s Vesper Choir performed a soulful rendition of “I’ll be a Witness.”

Veronica Alexander, wife of UAPB Chancellor Laurence Alexander, said she was excited to see the great turnout.

“It’s wonderful to see people coming together, and I look forward to great things happening in Pine Bluff,” she said.

Joy Blankenship, executive director of Pine Bluff Downtown Development and a volunteer with the 175th anniversary celebration, said:“I’m thrilled that the whole city came together and worked on this.”

Small victories such as a celebration can lead to bigger things, she said.

When asked about the turnout, Hollingsworth said, “Wow! This is what Pine Bluff is all about.”

In addition to an evening of dining and dancing, Hollingsworth said the proceeds will go toward the formation of a nonprofit educational foundation that will benefit local students.

“We’ve been talking to teachers and are in the process of putting together a committee,” she said.

Latasha Randle, whose daughter Leah was singing at the gala, said, “It’s wonderful. I would like to see this done each year.”