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History of Ninth Street


The Mosaic Templars and African American Enterprise, Leadership and Culture in Arkansas: Little Rock’s Ninth Street as a Lens to Interpret Black Achievement
(Much of this work is excerpted from manuscripts by historian John Graves)

The birth of Little Rock's black community can be traced back to 1854 when the family of Chester Ashley gave land to a group of black Methodists so that they could erect a church at 8th and Broadway. This area was the first home for the pioneering black churches Wesley Chapel and Bethel A.M.E., that helped form the center of Little Rock’s black community. This pattern of residential and commercial development created a ‘hub’ of black social, political, and economic life in Little Rock. This thriving district helped support a rich intellectual, political, entrepreneurial, and cultural context for the legendary Mosaic Templars of America organization, and they represent the pinnacle of success for Arkansas’s black business vanguard and the business district that once thrived along 9th Street.

The Mosaic Templars organization, founded by John E. Bush and Chester Keatts in Little Rock in 1883, had been established primarily to provide burial and life insurance and other services to its members, which were few in the beginning. In addition to the fraternal lodges, the Templars started the Mosaic National Building and Loan Association in 1884. The organization continued expanding its fraternal organization by adding chapters in other states, and through steady growth in the next decade had amassed sufficient capital assets to construct the headquarters building at 9th and Broadway. By the 1920’s the 2nd Floor of the Mosaic Temple Building housed offices for the Mosaic Templars; H. A. Powell, Dentist; F. C. Goodwin, Dentist; Dr. J. Z. Barguh and Dr. J. M. Robinson; North Carolina Mutual Life Ins Co.; W. A. Singfield, Lawyer; and Standard Life Insurance Co.

Picture of Dubisson Semi-Pro Baseball Team, Little Rock. Courtesy of Berna Love, Museum of Science & History with support from grants by Arkansas Humanities Council & National Endowment for the Humanities.
Picture of Dubisson Semi-Pro Baseball Team, Little Rock.
Courtesy of Berna Love, Museum of Science & History with support from grants by Arkansas Humanities Council & National Endowment for the Humanities.


The Mosaic Templars National Headquarters Building was constructed between 1911 and 1913 and is still located at the southwest corner of 9th and Broadway Streets. The building embodies the history of the organization and black community in Little Rock. It connects this urban experience to other Arkansas towns as well as 26 states and six foreign countries through the Templars’ myriad programs, political, business and leadership networks.

The economic effect and example set by the Mosaic Templars were felt throughout the state, the nation, and beyond. By the 1920s the organization was noticed as one of the largest black-owned business enterprises in the world. The organization and its membership services had not only extended to the urban and rural statewide black population, but had also evolved to reach people around the globe. As it grew, the Templars organization served 100,000 members at various times. The Mosaic Templars also operated a business and loan association, a newspaper (The Mosaic Guide) and printing plant, a hospital and nurses training center, and other successful enterprises like the Mosaic Apartments, located on the second floor of their state Temple headquarters at 906 Broadway.

In addition to the organization’s remarkable feats in industry, particularly between the 1890s and the 1930s, one of the most important results of Mosaic Templars’ self-help initiatives was that through the programs and services offered, black people were able to receive marketable skills training that would have otherwise been unavailable. In the History of the Mosaic Templars of America – Its Founders and Officials, authors Bush and Dorman state that by 1924 the Endowment Department, with approximately 20 employees processed the organization’s entire volume of business; i.e. $475,000 annual income, $250,000 annual death loss claims paid in 1924. Hundreds of jobs were afforded throughout the Mosaic system.

Poster for Philander Smith College's 1910 class. The college was a fixture in the 9th Street neighborhood. Courtesy of Berna Love, Little Rock Museum of Discovery.
Poster for Philander Smith College's 1910 class. The college was a fixture in the 9th Street neighborhood.
Courtesy of Berna Love, Little Rock Museum of Discovery.


The Mosaic Templars’ record of achievement reflects wide diversity and a level of progress unique to Arkansas’s black community. For example, the relative success of the Mosaic Templars in terms of their black activism in pursuit of justice, their opposition to Arkansas’s racially segregated railroads and streetcars, their defeat of the segregated school-tax, and their advocacy for insurance and public health coverage for black people is a most powerful record of achievement and is yet unparalleled nearly a century later.

The organization and its headquarters were the natural site for business, social and political gatherings. In 1925, Arkansas Governor Tom Terral delivered an evening speech in the auditorium as a kick-off for the annual National Grand Temple convention; in 1930, Governor Parnell did the same.

In addition to the Mosaic Templars’ foundational self-help tenet, there was the notion that by standing up for oneself, one stands up for all black people. The Mosaic Templars’ zeal to succeed was distinguished by a special brand of esprit de corps bound in success-consciousness. The organization defined a standard of progress for black people while affecting subtle challenge to the politics of exclusion and official segregation. This – combined with their leadership’s common belief that equal administration of justice is an imperishable ideal – made the Mosaic Templars quest a holistic approach to building community.

The new Mosaic Templars Center for African American Culture and Business Enterprise would relate profound lessons of the Mosaic Templars’ story and the vibrant black experience.

History of Ninth Street




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Mosaic Templars Building Preservation Society

MOSAIC TEMPLAR BUILDING PRESERVATION SOCIETY
P.O. Box 45674
Little Rock, AR 72214-5674
For information regarding the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center hours of operation or special events, please visit their website at www.mosaictemplarscenter.org
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