A trip down Cantrell Road in west Little Rock reveals the westward expansion of the state’s capital, but many may be unaware of the area’s fascinating history.
It was 1907 when Josephine Pankey and her husband Samuel purchased 80 acres of land then outside of Little Rock. It would grow into a black community, rich with culture and heritage.
Some of the early families to the area included the Mosses, Gregorys, Johnsons and Bledsoes. Gradually, the community grew. The area’s first church came in 1911 when Josephine donated land for the Pankey Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Events of the late 1920s — specifically the lynching of John Carter in 1927 — fast-tracked the growth of the Pankey community. Josephine and her husband didn’t live in the area until after Carter’s murder, a time when several black families began to look for other places to live to escape the racial tension inside the city.
The Pankey community became a safe haven.
Josephine sold lots upon lots of her land to several families, some for as little as $10 or $15. Sometimes, goods were even accepted as payment.
One longtime Pankey resident told Arkansas Business in 2010 that Josephine “would buy land, develop it up and get rid of it. She was a person that believed in investing.” Soon, modest one-story homes began to sprout up in the area. By 1969, the community was home to about 400 residents. The Arkansas Gazette called it “a poverty pocket.”
Three more churches were added between 1929 and 1947 — First Baptist Church of Pankey in 1929, Grace Temple Church of God in Christ in 1940 and Mark Chapel Methodist Church (now United Methodist).
The rapid growth also brought the need for a school. The first was a one-room building that held grades 1–8. It was in the 1940s that quonset huts were taken from Camp Robinson and used for additional classrooms for upper grades. The Pankey Elementary School came in the 1950s and was home to more than 200 black students that attended the school through 1965.
Pankey was also home to a thriving business community, including Bob’s Café & Pool Hall, Willie’s Snack Bar, White Eagle Café, an outdoor movie theater, and a grocery store and gas station. None of the businesses survive today.
Through the years, the community dwindled. The city of Little Rock annexed it in 1979, and it has shrunk in size as the capital city’s sprawl continues westward.
Even with the expansion of Little Rock, the Pankey community is still home to a couple dozen black families, many of whom are descendants of early residents.
There are still three churches in the area in addition to various family-owned businesses. But unlike the past days of Pankey, there are now signs of commercial development all around, with stores like New Balance, Starbucks and IberiaBank Mortgage.
“It’s almost like a ghost town,” a 40-year Pankey resident told Arkansas Business in 2010. “Pankey’s still on the map, but there’s not much going on.”