The city of Pine Bluff Economic and Community Development Department will host a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 8 in council chambers at the city civic complex.
The purpose of the meeting is to:
• Highlight local historical facts and findings related to freedmen’s or African-American experiences during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras;
• Share and receive comments on plans and key projects for interpreting these experiences, among other themes;
• Identify additional partners interested in contributing to these and other related interpretive efforts.
In addition to the general public, representatives from historical societies, youth groups and civic clubs are encouraged to attend.
This meeting concludes a six-month planning process that involved a diverse team of scholars, agency representatives and members of the general public. The project was supported in part by a grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council and the Department of Arkansas Heritage.
Mark Christ of the Arkansas Department of Heritage served as the project’s official scholar. Mark Christ has published a number of books on the Civil War, including “Civil War Arkansas 1863,” which includes a chapter on the Battle of Pine Bluff.
He will attend the public meeting and answer questions, along with others.
Another researcher involved in the process was John House of the Arkansas Archaeological Survey. House officially documented the location of two “freedmen” campsites that operated during the Civil War, where American Missionary Association teachers also operated schools. One of the campsites later served as the residential quarters for U.S. Colored Troops during the war.
Ronnie A. Nichols of Nichols Consulting was engaged in the process and provided a comprehensive listing of USCT regiments that were on duty at Pine Bluff. Nichols — now of North Potomac, Md. — is a former museum director, who also served as the technical adviser to the Academy-Award winning movie “Glory.”
Other participants included representatives from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Jefferson County Historical Museum, Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas, UAPB Economic Research & Development Center, Pine Bluff Downtown Development Inc. and the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Civil War Sesquicentennial Collaborative.
In light of heritage tourism development, the statewide commemoration of the Civil War and Reconstruction provides an opportunity to further interpret this segment of local history. The overall Civil War and Reconstruction interpretation program is titled “Vital Crossroads” and seeks to highlight diverse perspectives of the Civil War and its effects on Jefferson County. These perspectives include: Union, Confederate, African-American, and other perspectives — including local Chinese immigration, which began during Reconstruction.
Pine Bluff’s designation as a Preserve America Community in October 2009 demonstrates its commitment to preserving and enjoying its cultural and natural heritage.
Preserve America is a federal initiative that “recognizes and designates communities that protect and celebrate their heritage, use their historic assets for economic development and community revitalization, and encourage people to experience and appreciate local historic resources through education and heritage tourism programs.”
Hence, Pine Bluff is pursuing heritage tourism as one of its economic development initiatives, which also provides a focal point for revitalization of the “Heart of the City” area. Revitalization efforts center on a plethora of assets located within the heart of the city, which are impossible or costly to duplicate. These assets include the many historic structures, cultural and historical institutions, natural and recreational assets and other heritage assets such as historical markers and murals that provide a basis for this type of development.