Mosaic Templars Cultural Center
The Mosaic Templars Cultural Center is a museum located in Little Rock, Arkansas. It focuses on collecting, preserving, interpreting and celebrating African American history, culture and community in Arkansas from 1870 to the present, and informs and educates the public about black achievements - especially in business, politics and the arts.
The Mosaic Templars
The Mosaic Templars was a black friendly society founded by John E. Bush and Chester W. Keatts, two former slaves, in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1883. The Mosaic Templars was an organization that originally provided illness, death, and burial insurance during an era when few basic services were available to black people. By 1900 Mosaic Templars’ industries grew to include an insurance company, a building and loan association, a publishing company, a business college, a nursing school, and a hospital.
Up until the 1920s the Mosaic Templars paid $1,000 to the families of deceased members. It also paid sick and disability benefits. While the society considered itself a secret society but didn't not accent secrecy as serious as other groups.
By 1905 it had a number of lodges across the state with thousands of members. Its headquarters were housed in a handsome new building that opened in 1913; Booker T. Washington delivered the dedication speech. In the 1920s they claimed chapters in twenty-six states and six foreign countries, making it one of the largest black organizations in the world.
However, in the 1930s, the MTA began to feel the effects of the Great Depression and eventually ceased operations. However, a single chapter remains, in Barbados.
Various business rented the building into the late 20th century, but changing business climates, urban renewal, and the construction of a nearby highway through the old business district left the building without occupants and in disrepair.
In 1992, the building was slated for demolition so that a fast-food restaurant could be built on the lot. On January 19, 1993, the Society for the Preservation of the Mosaic Templars of America Building, a group of urban preservationists, was incorporated to lobby against the building's destruction. The city of Little Rock purchased the building for $110,000 in late 1993, the first time the city purchased a building for historic preservation.
The structure burned to the ground on March 12, 2005. City voters passed a $185,000 1993 bond initiative to purchase additional property lots around the building, and planning began for an African American culture and history museum on the site. In 2001, the Society won passage of two laws in the Arkansas state legislature. The first law provided money to fund the creation of the museum, and the second turned the museum over to the Department of Arkansas Heritage, a state agency.
A new building was constructed on the site, and the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center turned over to the state. The four-story museum opened on September 19, 2008. Members of the Barbados lodge attended its opening. The museum consists of four permanent exhibits on the first floor, and an Arkansas Black Hall of Fame on the second, and the Bush-Remmel genealogical research center. The Mosaic Templars Cultural Center has more than 8,000 square feet (740 m2) of interactive exhibit and education space. A third floor auditorium provides the opportunity to explore the story of Arkansas's African Americans through public forums, conferences, and performing arts.
- Davis, Ryan. "A Cultural Icon Rises From the Ashes in Historic Little Rock." The Crisis. Summer 2009, p. 39.
- Schmidt, Alvin J. Fraternal Organizations Westport, CT; Greenwood Press p.223
- Finley, Randy. From Slavery to Uncertain Freedom: The Freedman's Bureau in Arkansas 1865-1869. Fayetteville, Ark.: University of Arkansas Press, 1996, p. xlix.
- Finley, p. l.
- Finley, p. li-lii.
- Davis, p. 40.
- "Black History Museum to Open in Little Rock." USA Today. August 6, 2008.
- Gambrell, Jon. "Black Fraternal Society Resurfaces in Barbados." Washington Post. November 16, 2008.
For further reading
- Bush, A.E., and P.L. Dorman. History of the Mosaic Templars of America. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press. ISBN 1-55728-882-8.