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Floyd B. Brown founded the Fargo Agricultural School in Monroe County in 1919 to provide the equivalent of elementary and secondary vocational education for African-American students. The school was for both day and residential students and was modeled after the Tuskegee Institute, which Brown attended, where students learned practical skills intended to help them achieve success and economic security.
Floyd Brown was born on April 27, 1891, in Stampley, Mississippi, the second of ten children and the son of black tenant farmers Charles and Janie Brown. As a youth, Brown worked with his father in the cotton fields of Mississippi and the cane fields of Louisiana. His mother, who had heard of the work of Booker T. Washington, encouraged him to enter Tuskegee, where he received a high school certificate in 1917. Washington had died in 1915, but his influence at Tuskegee and in the United States was immense, and his legacy lived on for several generations. In 1918, Brown was ordained as a Baptist minister after studies at Phelps Hall Bible School on the Tuskegee campus.
During the summer of 1915, Brown had visited Fargo (Monroe County) while selling biographies of Booker T. Washington, probably Up from Slavery, in eastern Arkansas. Fargo and nearby Zent (Monroe County) were primarily black communities that lacked school facilities. He decided to return and start a school there patterned after Tuskegee. As he famously stated in his later autobiography, “I returned… with $2.85 with faith in God and the people to start my mission work.”
Brown borrowed money as an initial payment for twenty acres of land a short distance southeast of Fargo. On January 1, 1920, the school opened with one teacher, Ruth Mahon, and fifteen students in a one-room school; at the same time, Brown developed a board of trustees composed of both African Americans and whites. Brown married Lillian Epps on March 5, 1921, and she also taught classes as head of the home economics department. The couple had no children.
The ideology that Brown learned from Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee particularly equipped him to face the racial conflicts of the Arkansas Delta in the early 1920s. Although Brown was never known to make direct references to racial violence, he must have been aware of the Elaine Massacre of 1919, which occurred just sixty miles to the south of Fargo. Moreover, the indignities of Jim Crow and the horror of lynching were daily reminders of racial conflict for African Americans. Brown accommodated himself to segregation and to “liberal” whites in return for their support of the school. To his students, Brown argued that they must earn greater rights based on accomplishment, not confrontation, and he emphasized that they should not be ashamed to start at the bottom of the economic ladder, nor to work with their hands. Brown stressed, as had Washington, what could be done rather than what should be done.
The Great Depression years compounded the school’s challenges, but it was able to survive because of its farm. By 1945, the Fargo Agricultural School owned 550 acres of land, twelve buildings constructed by faculty and students, and an enrollment of 180 day and residential students. The school’s products were sold for basic support, but Brown traveled extensively to raise additional funds from private individuals and businesses. One of the many aphorisms that Brown used, “Work Will Win,” became the title of a documentary about the school made in 1994. In addition to his other activities, Brown had a community service mission. He organized an annual Negro Farmers Conference for continuing education and groups to conduct annual maintenance of local cemeteries.
In 1949, when the need for the school had diminished, Brown sold the campus to the state of Arkansas. The state used the campus for a new school, the Fargo Training School for Negro Girls. Brown served as principal until his permanent retirement in 1954. None of the original campus buildings survive.
In the 1990s, alumni created the Fargo Agricultural School Museum at the School for Negro Girls site to honor Brown. The museum subsequently moved to Brinkley (Monroe County).
In 1955, the Browns moved to Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) to live in a new home at 1401 Georgia Street. Brown died there six years later, on September 11, 1961, and was buried at P. K. Miller Cemetery in Pine Bluff.
For additional information:Brown, Floyd. He Built a School with Two Dollars and Eighty-Five Cents: His Friends Tell the Story in this Book. Fargo, AR: 1956.
Fargo Agricultural School Museum. Brinkley, Arkansas.
Floyd Brown Microfilm Collection. Arkansas State Archives, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Helaine R. Freeman. “Fargo School Museum Cultivates Memories of Many Past Glories.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. February 20, 1996, p. 14D.
Hill, Jack, producer. Work Will Win: A History of the Fargo Agricultural School. Video Documentary. Little Rock: Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, 1994.
Stephen L. ReckenUniversity of Arkansas at Little Rock
Last Updated 6/8/2016
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