The Fargo Training School Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 27, 2010.
The Fargo Training School Historic District is being nominated for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A with statewide significance, for its association with ethnic heritage and for its association with African American Education through the first half of the 20th Century. The Fargo Training School Historic District is an excellent example of an educational campus for African American students from the late 1950s through 1960. Though it is unclear who the architect(s) is for the educational buildings, it is known that Furrell and Robinson designed the 1964 addition to the Floyd Brown Building, but was constructed by Charles A. Lovell. This extraordinary property of fifteen acres, built between 1958 and 1960, features the contributing irregular shaped Floyd Brown Building, the nonagonal Mid-Delta Head Start Building, Fargo Agricultural School Museum, J.R. Jackson Gymnasium Site, two faculty cottages, and a noncontributing gymnasium. Fargo Training School is believed to be the only training school left from that era in the State of Arkansas.
“The education of the whole people, in a republican government, can never be attained without the consent of the whole people.” This idea about educating the citizens of a republican form of government, especially at the state level, really rings true in the state of Arkansas. Though accepted in the Union after 1787, the presence of the Ordinance of 1787, holds very true for the early education history of Arkansas. The schooling idea in Arkansas was formed out of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which encouraged public education and with the Land Ordinance of 1785 established townships and sections through the Territorial Government of Louisiana Act of 1806. Each township is six miles square and each of the sections subdividing the township is one mile square. The ordinance declared that one section (section 16) of each township would be reserved for the support of schools.
Later, with the enactment of territorial legislation in 1829, the legislature made an effort to create a system of schools by passing the first law concerning public education. As part of this legislation, “each township [had] to select three trustees whose duties were to maintain a school building on the sixteenth township and hire a teacher.” At this time, public schools were not free nor were they supported by public money other than the leasing, selling or renting of the sixteenth township lands. It was not until after the Civil War that education began to move forward again. As part of the new state constitution mandated by the Federal government to allow Arkansas back into the Union, the new constitution called for a “two mill state property tax for school purposes.” As part of the Reconstruction Act of 1867, education was extended to “black and white students alike, between the ages of five and twenty-one.” However, even with the new education system in place, the schools themselves were segregated by race, though not through legality. During the period following the Reconstruction, solidifying the educational system became harder due to economical restraints. It is also during this period that an African American school system and a white school system began developing separately. It would not be until the trail of Brown v Board of Education of Topeka in 1954 that the two school systems would start to become one central school system. Even with the court’s ruling, the desegregation process was slowing moving in many of the southern states including Arkansas.
It was during this period of segregated schools that Floyd Brown created the Fargo Agricultural School, the predecessor to the Fargo Training School for Delinquent Negro Girls, in 1919. Mr. Brown was determined to build a school with the $2.85 he had upon his arrival in Fargo, Arkansas. Mr. Brown was able to “purchase on credit twenty acres of land from a local minister…and made an agreement to pay for the land after harvest the next year.” By November 27, 1919, “ground was broke[n] for the first building of the Fargo Agricultural School” and classes had begun by January 1, 1920. This new school was designed to “prepare young people of his race [African American] to live useful lives. It taught African- American students the skills they needed for life in rural Arkansas with emphases upon farming and domestic life.” This same concept was one that was brought by the Rosenwald Fund in the initial planning phase for what is known as the Dunbar School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Now, there was a strong push for African Americans to receive an education in the various trade groups as African American men and women made up 25% of Little Rock’s population. That 25% of the population was working in various trades such as cooks, gardeners, and agricultural labor for men while women worked as seamstresses, cooks and laundry women. Therefore, the philanthropist in charge of funding the schools’ development formatted the curriculum around the jobs that they already were working. This same idea was proposed by the Department of Education in Arkansas, as they “believed that a greater emphasis should be placed on the vocational interest of the Negro youth and adults on the farm.” What the Dunbar school offered that the Fargo Agricultural School did not was a variety of course tracks. Dunbar offered three course tracks in academic, academic and vocational, and industrial, while Fargo offered one that involved academic and vocational training. Still the difference between the two schools was the students would move on to after graduation. In the case of Dunbar, many students would stay within the urban environment, while those attending Fargo would move back to the farm where vocational training would be better served. However, the vocational and industrial course were designed to teach the students how to be used in an industrial helper job such as working as a janitor in which you did not need a high school education.
In the thirty years that the Fargo Agricultural School existed, several of the boys and girls who attended the school and who may not have had the chance to finish high school otherwise were able to move beyond the agrarian way of life into professional careers. The final graduation of the Fargo Agricultural School took place in May 1949, as Mr. Brown sold the school he created to the State of Arkansas for a marginal amount of money as it was passed as Act 355 in 1949. At that time, Mr. Brown had decided that he “could not continue indefinitely being responsible for raising large sums of money to finance the school.” At the time that Mr. Brown sold the school to the State of Arkansas, African American schools received only 11%  of the state expenditures for public education, while accounting for nearly 24% of the state enrollment. This made it even harder for Mr. Brown as his school was funded primarily through donations. Mr. Brown also stated that there was beginning to be “competition with new high schools being built in communities where our school received [a] majority of its students.” Mr. Brown found satisfaction that over those thirty years, by knowing he was able to “help make it possible for many of the underprivileged boys and girls to get an education that will help them to be good citizens.” With those words, he presented the school to the Arkansas legislature as he felt that the “need for a privately–owned high school had passed, and that the property would be better suited for a state institution for Negro girls.” Over those thirty years, the campus of the Fargo Agricultural School grew from one building and twenty acres of land to fourteen buildings and nearly eight hundred acres of land. It would be the same ideals and approach to education left by the Fargo Agricultural School that would lead the way in creating a foundation for the Fargo Training School for Negro Girls.
When operations began at the school, the state of Arkansas held that the school was part of the state’s penal system. The training school system was segregates with the white girl’s school located in Alexander, the white boy’s school located in Pine Bluff (Arkansas Training School for Boys), and the African American boy’s school located at Wrightsville (Negro Boy’s Industrial School or Arkansas Training School for Boy’s at Wrightsville). Once the school year had started in 1950, there was still a lot “to be done in acquainting the people of the State that the school [was] not a [penal] institution but is a training school to rehabilitate, the girls placed there by the court system.” Though it seems that it was not much of an issue after classes began, as there is no mention of it again until 1955. Little in the way of the education of the students changed once the transition happened as Mr. Brown was retained as the Superintendent of the Training School. During the four years that Mr. Brown was the Superintendent, 1950-1954, and even throughout the rest of the school’s history, the girls were taught household duties such as milking cows, canning fruits and vegetable, and caring for other livestock at the school as part of their home economics course work. The school’s literary subjects consisted of reading, writing, spelling, grammar, arithmetic, health and other basic subjects that would help them to be better girls when they returned to their homes and communities. Yet, the school tried in every way to bring the girls closer together as they were traveling from all over the state and from different backgrounds.In order to achieve this goal, the school added sports to the curriculum. Girls who arrived at Fargo were all sent to the Training School for various reasons ranging from school rated problems to broken homes, to disobeying their parents. This varying degree of problems never seemed to affect the education or the way the school conducted its education toward the students as all were treated equally.
When classes began at the new school in the fall of 1950, the school was using the old buildings of the Fargo Agricultural School. However, after the retirement of Dr. Floyd Brown, Dr. R.M. Foster took over a superintendent of the Fargo Training School. Under Dr. Foster, the school began a process of updating the facilities, as the older buildings were in need of repair and it was stated that the cost was too great to fix them.Consequently, all of the brick and framed structures of the original Fargo Agricultural School were demolished and replaced between 1955 and 1958. However, the only remaining remnant of the former Fargo Agricultural School is the foundation and steps of the original J.R. Jackson Gymnasium. One of those new buildings was the Dr. Floyd Brown building which was built in 1958 to serve as the center of the school’s activities. The building included dormitory rooms, cafeteria, kitchen, classrooms, chapel, auditorium, and office space. The idea of replacing the buildings that were at the school with new buildings really was foreign, as many of the African American students throughout the state of Arkansas were attending class in “makeshift, overcrowded, and unsanitary classrooms.”
In 1960, Dr. Floyd Brown and his wife donated $10,000 to the training school for the construction of what is currently the Floyd Brown-Fargo Agricultural Museum. Construction took six months and the building was opened in August 1960. It would only be three years before another major construction project began at the school. As part of Act 471 of 1963, there was $550,000 appropriated for the construction and equipping of facilities at the training school. It is unknown, as of this time, if there were plans for one or more buildings.We do know that the Dr. Floyd Brown Building has a 1964 addition, which included new classroom space, new kitchen and cafeteria, and additional rooms. There were also other appropriations made to hire new staff for the faculty. This goes to show that the facility was beginning to grow at an astronomical rate as were the number of students at the facility.
Yet, even with the addition of facilities at Fargo, nothing would be more detrimental to the Fargo Training School than the 1967 case of The Board of Managers of the Arkansas Training School for Boys at Wrightsville et al., Appellants, v. Mrs. Nona Mae George et al. In the court’s decision, it is mentioned that this case did not allow them to comment directly on the girl’s schools. However, since the girl’s schools were set up in the same manner as the boy’s schools, the separation of school by race was determined unconstitutional and consequently ordered that judges start remanding juveniles to the nearest school and not separating by race. After being denied a rehearing of the case in June 1967, it seems to have taken until November 1969 before the schools began to be integrated. Yet, the decision was fatal for the Fargo Training School. On May 23, 1968, the Arkansas Juvenile Training Board ordered the Fargo Training School closed citing the desegregation order as the primary reason for the closure. Over the next two months, the school was in an unsettled state. The school board and the Arkansas State Legislature continued to discuss the validity of relocating 95 girls Alexander. Yet by June 22, 1968, the decision had been made that the school would be close, though the governor consistently stated that the facilities would continue to be used at Fargo, with plans being discussed that the Welfare Department would use the facilities as a foster home for dependent and neglected children.
Still, on July 24, 1968, one third of the fifty-three girls would begin to be transferred to Alexander. At Alexander, they would be placed immediately with “white girls” in the dormitories. It was also stated that the transfer of the girls to Alexander would be completed by the end of July and that all equipment had already begun to be moved. With the closure of the facility and the transfer of the girls to Alexander, the 270 acres and six buildings would be in the hands of a caretaker.
In 1971, the Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services was formed as part of a reorganization of state government. Now known as the Department of Human Services, the schools at Pine Bluff and Alexander served both white and African American students as part of the Juvenile Services Division. In 1977, the Juvenile Services Division was reorganized as the Division of Youth Services in the Department of Human Services. The Alexander school was later converted into the Alexander Youth Services Center, which began taking in both boys and girls and is currently operating as the Arkansas Juvenile Treatment and Assessment Center. The current institution has taken on more of a correctional institutional roll compared to the educational base roll it had at the time of the conversion in late 1960s and early 1970s.
By the middle of the 1990s, the Division of Youth Services changed their method of treatment of youth in the State of Arkansas and constructed new facilities to meet the change in practices through additional space for client specific and individual treatment programming. With these new practices, new facilities began construction in Colt, Harrisburg, Lewisville, and Mansfield between 1994-1997. The Department of Human Services no longer lists Pine Bluff as one of their treatment facilities and as of the current time, the Alexander facility only has one comparable building on its campus.
In 1981, Section 20 of Act 769 ordered the State Board of Vocational Education to sell all properties that the board no longer deemed necessary for vocational education. At this same time the Arkansas Land and Farm Development Corporation (ALFDC) was founded in 1980. It was also at this time that the ALFDC began its operations at the old Fargo campus. At the corporation’s founding, their mission was to prevent black farmers from losing their land. Their mission has since expanded with the belief that land ownership leads to self-reliance, and toward that end, they provide technical and financial assistance to support rural farms and families. However, they are still primarily focused on the African American farm families in the Monroe County area.
It appears that the Fargo Training School campus is the most intact of the middle 1950s and 1960s youth correctional facilities in the State of Arkansas. Additionally, it is the only intact facility for African Americans in the period of segregation. The buildings reflect the end of a period in correctional practice and theory that vocational education combined with standard education could rehabilitate delinquent youth in Arkansas.