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Alice L. Preston 1907–2010

Alice Luberter Walker Preston was an African-American schoolteacher who was instrumental in the peaceful integration of Murfreesboro (Pike County) city schools in 1965. Over her lifetime, she left an enduring legacy in the field of education in Arkansas.

Alice Luberter Walker was born on December 16, 1907, in Paraloma (Howard County), the first of two children born to Lizzie Walker and the Reverend R. W. Walker. Because there was no high school for black students in Paraloma or nearby Nashville (Howard County), her family made arrangements for her to live with a cousin, the Reverend Bennie Neal, and his family in Fort Smith (Sebastian County), and she attended Fort Smith High School. She later stayed with a cousin in Hope (Hempstead County) and graduated from Yeager High School there.

She married Clark Preston, a sawmill laborer, in 1933. The couple had one son.

Alice Preston taught Murfreesboro’s black children in a one-room schoolhouse located on Highway 27 near the Pike County Courthouse. (This school was later renamed Preston Elementary.) She was the school’s sole teacher from 1929 until 1965, instructing children in the first through seventh grades. Often aware that some of her older students were responsible for looking after younger siblings, Preston, according to her son, would tell them, “Don’t miss school. Come on and bring the baby,” and she would help care for infants as well.

While teaching, she was also a part-time college student. Over the course of twenty years, she worked toward a degree in history, graduating magna cum laude with distinction in 1952 from Philander Smith College in Little Rock (Pulaski County).

In 1965, Preston influenced the students at the all-black Preston Elementary School and its sister high school at Clow (Hempstead County) to accept the invitation of the Murfreesboro all-white public school to integrate. This was one year before racial integration of schools was mandated statewide. The school merger was considered peaceful and amicable by most. Preston then became the first black teacher at Murfreesboro High School. She taught social studies.

After retiring from teaching in 1968, she followed other pursuits. In 1975, she became the first woman and the first African American elected to the Murfreesboro City Council. She was instrumental in establishing the senior center in Murfreesboro, where she taught reading and writing in the adult literacy program. She was among a handful of community leaders who helped establish the Murfreesboro Diamond newspaper in 1975. She was a leader and teacher in the Upward Bound summer educational program at Southern Arkansas University (SAU) at Magnolia (Columbia County).

Preston was also one of the founders of the Paraloma Homecoming Association, established in 1959, which brings former residents back to the area each August and raises money for the care and upkeep of Scott Memorial United Methodist Church and cemetery.

In 1979, Preston was appointed by Governor Bill Clinton to the state Board of Education. She served for ten years. She participated in the earliest “Silver Haired Legislative Sessions” that focused on issues and concerns of the state’s half-million residents over the age of sixty-five.

Preston received many honors in her lifetime. She was named one of the Horizon 100 Arkansas Women of Achievement in 1980 and Citizen of the Decade by the Murfreesboro Chamber of Commerce in 1988. She was presented the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education Distinguished Alumni of the Year Citation in 1992.

Preston was a longtime leader in the United Methodist Church. She served as president of the Southwest Conference Women’s Society of Christian Service from 1968 to 1973. She was elected on the first ballot as a lay delegate from the Southwest Conference to the 1972 United Methodist General and Jurisdictional conferences. She served on the denomination’s worldwide General Council on Ministries and was recognized in Who’s Who in the United Methodist Church.

Preston died in Hot Springs (Garland County) on June 24, 2010, at the age of 102. She is buried at Paraloma Cemetery.

For additional information:
“Alice Preston: Teacher, Pioneer, Inspirational Leader.” Arkansas United Methodist, August 6, 2010, pp. 1, 8.

Britton, Nancy. Two Centuries of Methodism in Arkansas, 1800–2000. Little Rock: August House, 2000.

Henderson, O. Freeman. “Rounding the Square.” Murfreesboro Diamond, June 30, 2010, p. 5.

Obituary of Alice Preston. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 27, 2010, p. 9B.

Jane Dennis
Little Rock, Arkansas

Last Updated 2/18/2011

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