Neel Awarded Inaugural Grant from Rutherford Endowment to Create Oral History of Ralph Bunch Community

Brian Neel

A UA Little Rock student is one of four students selected across the University of Arkansas System who is an inaugural recipient of a grant honoring James L. “Skip” Rutherford III, dean emeritus of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.

Brian Neel, a Pine Bluff native who is pursuing a master’s degree in history, will use his $1,000 grant to fund research on the Ralph Bunche community, a predominantly Black neighborhood in Benton. Funds will help pay for his equipment and travel for the oral history project, which will explore the impact of segregation and desegregation on the community.

The Rutherford endowment was established last year to honor Rutherford and provide support to student leaders in the University of Arkansas System.

“It was a very competitive pool in the award’s inaugural year with over 100 applications from 9 campuses across the UA system,” said Eric Wilson, chairman of the James L. “Skip” Rutherford III Endowment Committee. “We were impressed by the overall need and interest. I think Dean Rutherford would be pleased with the diversity and quality of the applicants and recipients. These four recipients were exactly the kind of people we envisioned helping when we had the idea to create this program.”

The Ralph Bunche community is one of the oldest historically African-American neighborhoods in Saline County. Originally called Gravel Hill and later Southside Community, the community was renamed in 2002 in honor of Ralph Bunche, the first African American to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

“It’s an incredibly long-standing community with history going back to the late 1800s,” Neel said. “During the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, we went through such a time of change in America. A lot of the members of the Ralph Bunche community who witnessed these events are part of an aging community. We are running out of time to preserve the memories of those who have experienced these great changes.”

Neel is interested in preserving the history of the Ralph Bunche community because he spent time there as a child. His great-grandparents and grandmother owned a home on Neeley Street, which serves as the community’s eastern boundary.

“I have a connection to the community, and my grandmother talked about it often since she lived on a street that is directly adjacent to the community,” Neel said. “If I am really lucky and the project goes well, this could be the start of more oral history projects of other formerly segregated communities in Arkansas,” he said. “I think it would be valuable to put together a really good oral history of segregated communities in Arkansas.”

Neel is interested in speaking with current and former residents who lived in the Ralph Bunche community from 1950-1979. Anyone who is interested in participating in the oral history project may contact Neel at bgneel@ualr.edu.

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