Ceremony marks 40th anniversary of CDBG program

LITTLE ROCK — A few years ago, the city of McGehee turned to the Community Development Block Grant program for help in an effort to ensure that a shameful episode in American history is not forgotten.

The city applied for and received a $219,000 in CDBG funding that, in combination with other grants, allowed it to renovate its old train depot and turn it into a permanent home for an exhibit on the history of two internment camps in Desha County where more than 17,000 Japanese-Americans were relocated during World War II.

“Our desire to have this museum was to tell the nation the story of some very good and patriotic people and the denial of their civil rights and their years in those camps, with hopes that that would never occur in our nation again,” McGehee Mayor Jack May said Monday at the state Capitol during a ceremony celebrating the 40th anniversary of the CDBG program.

Since the McGehee Relocation Museum opened in April 2013, more than 2,300 people from 45 states and three countries have visited it.

“We were just overwhelmed at the response,” May said.

Created under the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, the CDBG program has distributed more than $700 million to Arkansas communities.

The grants are awarded to community development projects, “particularly in smaller communities that otherwise would not have the ability to do them,” Gov. Mike Beebe said. “So it’s kind of a happy birthday celebration and an acknowledgement of a program that spends your tax dollars in ways that really do benefit people.”

Also speaking at the event were Mulberry Mayor Gary Baxter and Raymond Chung, president of American Vegetable Soybean and Edamame, which operates an edamame processing plant in Mulberry that employs more than 100 people. The plant’s construction was funded in part with a $990,400 loan in CDBG money.

“We have a huge opportunity ahead of us to make Arkansas a state that is known not just for rice and for corn and soybeans and everything else, but also for edamame,” Chung said.

Shari King, executive director of the Mississippi County Union Rescue Mission in Blytheville, said the shelter began as an emergency shelter for men only, but in response to a huge increase in homeless women and families it converted a former storage room into dormitory housing for women and children. The project was funded with $264,855 in CDBG money.

The shelter has housed 259 women and 109 children, in addition to numerous men, since the expansion project was completed in 2009, King said.