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Carolyn Gray LeMaster (1927–2013)

Carolyn Gray LeMaster was the leading chronicler of Jewish life in Arkansas, through books, articles, and lectures, especially her book A Corner of the Tapestry: A History of the Jewish Experience in Arkansas, 1820s–1990s.

Carolyn Gray was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on December 17, 1927, to Elisha Columbus Gray, who was a railroad engineer and brakeman, and Erma White Gray, a homemaker. She left high school after the tenth grade to help support her family and care for her widowed mother.

She married Robert W. LeMaster, a hospital executive in Little Rock. They had four children. After the children were grown, LeMaster enrolled in 1975 at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR), where she graduated magna cum laude with a double major in journalism and philosophy in 1977. She was named the Edward L. Whitbeck Outstanding Senior for that year. She received a master’s degree in journalism from UALR in 1981.

She worked in the UALR News Bureau as a writer and editor for four years before receiving a grant from the Arkansas Endowment for the Humanities to research and write a history of the Jewish experience in Arkansas, the book for which she is best known. She was not Jewish but attributed her love of the Jewish people to her mother, who instilled in her an antipathy toward the prevailing anti-Semitic attitudes of 1920s Arkansas.

In her research, LeMaster visited 127 towns in Arkansas and twelve other states, interviewing hundreds of people. She subsequently wrote more than 1,000 letters locating individuals and soliciting their histories. She did a census of all Jewish cemeteries in Arkansas and then accessed more than a 1,000 obituaries on microfilm. Her resulting book, A Corner of the Tapestry: A History of the Jewish Experience in Arkansas, 1820s–1990s, was published in 1994 by the University of Arkansas Press.

LeMaster was also the author of The Ottenheimers of Arkansas—a history of the prominent Jewish Ottenheimer family, including industrialist and philanthropist Gus Ottenheimer—published in 1995 by Rose Publishing Company. She contributed articles to several other books, including The Quiet Voices: Southern Rabbis and Black Civil Rights (University of Alabama Press, 1997). She was a life member of the Arkansas Chapter of Hadassah and had served both as its program and education vice president. She was a member and officer of several historical societies, including the Southern Jewish Historical Society, Arkansas Women’s History Institute, and Arkansas Historical Association, and she served as president of the Pulaski County Historical Society from 2000 to 2001. She taught a non-credit lecture educational series, “The History of the Jewish People: From Abraham to Arkansas,” through UALR during the 1980s (and subsequently on request).

In 2005, the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies at the Central Arkansas Library System named her the Butler Center Fellow for the Arkansas Jewish History Collection. She subsequently processed the data she had collected for the Butler Center.

LeMaster died on November 18, 2013. She is buried in Walnut Grove Cemetery, as is her husband, who died in 2012.

For additional information:
Carolyn Gray LeMaster Arkansas Jewish History Collection. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas.

“Chronicled History of Arkansas’ Jews.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 22, 2013, p. 4B.

“In Memoriam: Carolyn Gray LeMaster.” UALR Alumni Association. http://ualr.edu/alumni/2013/11/20/in-memoriam-carolyn-gray-lemaster/ (accessed December 11, 2015).

Obituary of Carolyn Gray LeMaster. ArkansasOnline.com, November 20, 2013. http://www.arkansasonline.com/obituaries/2013/nov/20/carolyn-lemaster-2013-11-20/ (accessed December 11, 2015).

W. Christopher Barrier
Mitchell, Williams, Selig, Gates & Woodyard, P.L.L.C.

Last Updated 12/22/2015

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