Watch: Monuments and road markers
My children moan whenever we pass a Civil War battlefield or see a historical marker along the road. Never knowing what can be discovered, they know we are about to take a little detour to uncover our history.
One of these markers can be found in the small town of Gray Rock in Logan County. The Byrd Memorial sits next to the former Gray Rock colored Methodist Episcopal Church and is a tribute to former slaves Allen and Sarah Byrd.
Allen was born into slavery in 1815 on the Titsworth Plantation, near Roseville. One of the oldest settlers in western Arkansas, he and his family helped the Titsworths create the thriving river port and farming area now known as McLean Bottoms. Owned as a slave by Jack Titsworth, Allen would not have realized the influence his life would have on future generations.
Sweetie Ivery Wagoner, another plantation slave, recalled in her memoirs what life was like for the Titsworth plantation slaves:
âMaster Titsworth’s house was a pretty good setting; slave families sleep in their own cabins, but all their meal was done together in a long, rough brick house, and food was plentiful with freshly killed beef or pork, lots of corn pone made from flour ground by the old stone mills, with potatoes and vegetables seasoned with meats. … The old master was good with slaves, my mom always said; never whipped them, but if they got wicked and worthless, he would sell them. … Many slaves never learn to read or write, but the teacher teaches my own mom after the day’s work. They move into the house long after dark and the teacher teaches them, then on Sunday, “every Sunday too they would go to preach in a small church. My mom would move back to one side of the rows of seats. . “
Allen would have roughly the same experiences; his life was that of a servant of the people who owned and controlled his life. He must have been extremely talented, perhaps a carpenter, basket maker or blacksmith. Family history indicates that he worked nearby and was able to purchase his and his wife’s freedom in 1863. Allen was known to be the first free black man to own land in Logan County, given or purchased, 80 acres of prime farmland. Other freed slaves joined the Byrds to form the town of Gray Rock, a community that predated the formation of Logan County or Paris, the county seat.
Allen and Sarah had 16 children, all but three of whom survived to adulthood. Most of them stayed in the area and raised families. As former slaves, many residents of Gray Rock were eager to start their own schools and churches. Allen and Sarah donated an acre of land, on which the region’s first African-American Methodist church would be established. The church has become the center of the community for the sharecroppers and landowners in the community. It served as a school, church, and community and recreational center.
Allen has become a successful landowner and community leader. When he died in November 1886, the former slave owned enough property to cede each of his remaining 12 children 40 acres of land. Today the main road in the Parisian countryside is known as Byrd Lane and a monument commemorating the Byrd family can be found in Gray Rock as a testament to the life of this remarkable man and woman.
Another stop, another lesson learned: it’s not how we start life that matters, it’s the quality of life and how we spend it that matters.