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Charles Wilson Allbright was one of the best-known and most widely read newspaper columnists in Arkansas. Allbright wrote for the Arkansas Gazette and its successor the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, served as a speech writer, and authored several books.
Charles Allbright was born on February 5, 1929, in Oxford, Mississippi, to Brice and Nita Allbright. In an interview conducted by Michael Haddigan in March 2000, Allbright stated, “I was born in Oxford, Mississippi, which has nothing to do with my life except that is where my mother’s parents were. And, in those days, it took two weeks to have a baby, and you’d go where your parents are, and they’d take care of you, so I was born at Oxford.”
At the time of his birth, both of Allbright’s parents were professors of English at the Arkansas Agricultural and Mechanical College in Monticello (Drew County), now known as the University of Arkansas at Monticello. His father later became superintendent of schools at McGehee (Desha County), and his mother taught English and Latin at McGehee High School. His parents closely monitored his use of the English language, which he said benefited his ability to write later in his life.
The first twelve years of Allbright’s life were spent in McGehee, and then the family moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1941. Allbright graduated from Little Rock Senior High School, now known as Central High School, and then enrolled at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) in 1948. He majored in English and journalism, serving as editor of the student newspaper, the Arkansas Traveler, from 1951 to 1952. During the summers, Allbright worked in the sports department at the Arkansas Democrat. According to his interview with Haddigan, he did not graduate from college but went to work instead of completing the requirements for his degree.
Allbright enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1953 and was originally assigned to an infantry unit. He was later transferred to an artillery unit and received training on the 105mm howitzer. He was transferred from the artillery unit that was bound for coastal defense in England to a department for troop education and information at Camp Chaffee (now Fort Chaffee) in Arkansas. He was discharged from the army in 1955.
Allbright was then employed as a general assignment reporter by the Arkansas Gazette. In 1956, he began writing the “Our Town” column; he later moved into editorial writing. He left the Arkansas Gazette in 1965 and became a speech writer for Winthrop Rockefeller during his campaign for governor of Arkansas. After Rockefeller’s election to office, Allbright continued to work for him until Rockefeller’s death in 1973.
Allbright returned to the Arkansas Gazette in 1973 and began writing the “Arkansas Traveler” column. He continued writing the column until the Arkansas Gazette closed in 1991. Allbright began writing for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and continued to write the “Arkansas Traveler” column. His employment there ended on December 31, 2003, because Griffin Smith, executive editor of the paper, felt that it was time for Allbright’s column to come to an end. In Allbright’s final column, he wrote about various ways to say goodbye to his reading audience that had followed him for so many years. He quoted from several different writers, and at the end of his column, wrote, “The time is here. So much will not get said. Stay warm. I will always love you.”
After Allbright left the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, he received a plaque from the Arkansas Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists that included his final column and stated, “In Appreciation to Charles Allbright for bringing to light and preserving those odd, special and delightful moments in the lives of Arkansas people for nearly 40 years in the Our Town and Arkansas Traveler columns in the Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.”
Allbright wrote several books. He provided the text for 25 Years of Arkansas Gazette Photography: 1950–1975. Allbright possessed a keen sense of humor, which was evident in his books The Consecrated Cross-Eyed Bear: Stories from the Less-Solemn Side of Church Life, Gravely the Mules Stopped Dancing, and The Night of the Possum Concert: And Other Comedies.
Allbright died on October 22, 2015. He was preceded in death by a son, Charles Bernard Allbright, and was survived by a daughter, Tracy Wade, and by another son, Paul Allbright. In his obituary, Griffin Smith, executive editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, wrote, “He had a warm and human touch to his writing and could write movingly about people’s lives. That was, I think, his real talent. I think of him as someone who had a special warm touch in writing about ordinary lives.”
For additional information:“Charles Allbright: ‘Traveler’ Writer told State’s Stories.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 24, 2015, p. 6B.
Charles Allbright Collection. Torreyson Library Special Collections. University of Central Arkansas, Conway, Arkansas.
Haddigan, Michael. “Interview with Charles Allbright.” March 30, 2000. Arkansas Gazette Project. David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral History. University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas. http://pryorcenter.uark.edu/projects/Arkansas%20Gazette/ALLBRIGHT-Charles/transcripts/CAllbright.pdf (accessed on September 6, 2016).
Jimmy Bryant University of Central Arkansas
Last Updated 9/20/2016
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