Thursday, September 15, 2016

History, Humanity and Song: Sharing the Old "Negro Spirituals" with a New Generation

When Henry Norwood (1850-1952) was a young man, he was an enslaved worker on the Benjamin Norwood plantation in Sevier County, Arkansas. Because of his tender age, most of his work was in the "big house" under the supervision of his older sister, Cherry. Working in the kitchen and dining room, they were privy to intimate dinner table conversations. Henry would carry the stories they heard of the war and the coming emancipation to the workers in the field.
Henry Norwood

Upon emancipation, Henry and his older brother Bill made the treacherous 129 mile walk from Sevier County to Sebastian County. Arkansas was a very turbulent and dangerous place in those times. Family stories say they hugged the bank of the Cossatot River when possible, walked at night and did whatever they could to go undetected as they traveled.  It's uncertain why Henry and Bill chose Sebastian County as their new home. Some have speculated that there may have been ties to Greenwood's Gilliam family. The Gilliam family was the first to employ Henry and Bill, followed by the L. B. McKinney family. These families assisted Henry and Bill in acquiring land. As time passed, Henry established a name for himself. We know from the writings of Oscar Stallings, a neighbor, that Henry became known as an arbitrator and  peace keeper. This skill was especially important as relatives and fellow slaves journeyed from Sevier County to join the growing community in the White Oak/Greenwood area. Henry made behavioral expectations clear. When someone failed to toe the line, Henry counseled them. He was much valued and loved, and not the least for his skills as a hunting guide (see photo below) and amateur veterinarian.

Henry and hunting entourage, Greenwood

 Henry married and had twelve children. His children were said to have glorious voices. They formed a quartet. Henry loved nothing more than to hear their voices raise in song. The Norwood singing tradition continues today with Henry's grandson Gerald. Gerald Norwood, below, is a featured soloist with the Arise Ensemble of Wichita, Kansas. The group will perform Saturday, September 17 at 7 PM at the Greenwood Performing Arts Center. There is no admission fee.

Gerald Norwood

The Arise Ensemble will perform the almost forgotten songs of slavery. Once known as "Negro Spirituals," these powerful songs will be presented to a new generation of listeners in hopes that they will be remembered and their message of faith, hope, perseverance and the dream of a better tomorrow will resonate with today's audience. Arise weaves stories into their performance, sharing the roots of the songs and the hidden meanings they held for an oppressed people.

The Arise Ensemble
 Henry Norwood, raised a slave, could have been a bitter, hate-filled man, but chose instead a life of kindness and service to others. He was a friend to man, rejecting no one because of their color or creed.  He encouraged others to adopt a principled life and was a role model to young and old. Saturday's performance is dedicated to his memory. We invite all to come and be uplifted by this evening of historic story telling and song.

Henry and Grandson Lafayette

A Dapper Henry Norwood

This presentation is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Arkansas Humanities Council, the Arkansas Black History Commission, the Greenwood Advertising and Promotion Commission, the Greenwood Education Foundation, Greenwood High School Beta Club and Greenwood Schools. Sponsored by the South Sebastian County Historical Society in partnership with Greenwood Schools.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Bringing Traditional Spirituals and Their Stories to a New Generation

The Arise Ensemble

The South Sebastian County Historical Society, in collaboration with Greenwood Schools, is delighted to bring you the stories and songs of the acclaimed Arise Ensemble, September 17 at 7 PM at the Performing Arts Center, 515 East Gary Street, in Greenwood. There is no charge for admission.

This acclaimed choir from Wichita, Kansas will not only sing the historic songs once known as "Negro Spirituals," but will share the stories behind them. Listeners will learn how the songs once served the community of enslaved persons as warnings, advice, instruction and inspiration and will see how their message continues to inform, educate and uplift us today.

The choir has a connection to the Greenwood community in soloist Gerald Norwood (pictured below). Mr. Norwood is the grandson of former slave and Greenwood resident Henry Norwood (1850-1952).  The choir will be joined by Greenwood High School's Prescelto Chorus in singing "Fare Thee Well," a song with special meaning to the Norwood family.

The presentation is funded in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Arkansas Humanities Council, Arkansas Black History Commission, Greenwood A & P Commission, Greenwood Education Foundation, Greenwood High School Beta Club and Greenwood High School. All are welcome to attend.

For more information, contact the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce at 479-996-6357 or visit the Historical Society's Facebook page at OldJailMuseum.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Moving Into the Future

The Historical Society celebrated the end of the 2013 season with its annual Christmas banquet, lovingly prepared by our Sue Lewis and her crew. The 2014 officers-elect were presented: President-Elect Bob Turner, Vice-President-Elect Donna Goldstein, Curator-Corresponding Secretary Elect Sue Lewis, Recording Secretary-Elect Elysa Turner, Historian Joicie McConnell Gilbreath, and Treasurer Cinda Bell.

Plans for 2014 are beginning to take shape with the member's January bean supper and our first program of the year featuring National Park Ranger Cody Faber. More on that later...We hope you'll consider joining us in 2014. Membership is $15 for an individual and $25 for a family and includes a copy of the Society's annual publication, The Key. Membership requests can be mailed to SSCHS, P. O. Box 523, Greenwood, AR 72936.
Pictured, Cody Faber, Park Ranger, Fort Smith Historic Site.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Ice 1, Tea 0

The ice won this go-round. Our winter tea, Christmas in the Cabin, had to be cancelled. It is such a lovely event and sets the stage for many great Christmas card photos. We will cuddle up in our quilts and contemplate last year's celebration.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Like Santa and His Reindeer, We're Up In the Air!

Preparations are underway for a festive Christmas in the Cabin, this coming Sunday, December 8, from 1-4 PM. We are keeping an eye on the weather as the ice accumulates and will make a determination on Saturday about the feasibility of this annual event. Please check our Facebook page for updates. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Learn How To Preserve Family Stories

"Remember-when stories are the stuff that hold families together. Told and retold around the dinner table or campfire–anywhere your family gathers–are the stories. Someone will invariably say, “Why doesn’t someone write these down for the next generation? Our children and grandchildren need to know the kind of people we are." - Marilyn Collins

If you, like most of us, have expressed these same sentiments, you'll enjoy Monday night's speaker, Marilyn Collins. Marilyn will share practical suggestions to get your family history-writing project out of the realm of "someday" and into "today." Marilyn says, " “My passion is to help others save their cherished stories before they are lost in time—personal memoirs, family stories, and local history. I make the organizing, researching, writing, and publishing practical and user-friendly through my Step-by-Step Writing Guides, online newsletter, blogs, and other helpful writing books.”

After her presentation to the Historical Society, she will sign copies of her practical, informative and interesting books.  Purchasers will receive a free copy of her book, "Write History Right."

 The South Sebastian County Historical Society is privileged to have Ms. Collins as a guest speaker. She is a highly sought-after conference speaker and workshop leader, teaching participants to write history and narratives for genealogical research or publication in periodicals. Collins is also an award-winning author who has published numerous books and more than 100 magazine and newspaper features. She is also active in various professional organizations and has held positions with the Washington National Cathedral Association, American Association of University Women, and served as Director of the Beaufort Historical Association in North Carolina. She was owner of Wilson/Collins Marketing Consultants in both the Washington, DC area and in North Carolina. Currently she is owner of CHS Publishing.

Please join us Monday, November 18, 7 PM at Farmer's Bank Community Room in Greenwood for an entertaining and educational evening with Marilyn Collins.  The Society wishes to give special recognition and thanks to the GuestHouse Inn for providing lodging for Ms. Collins during her visit.

This Thanksgiving make a plan to save the stories told round the table.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Marilyn Collins To Share Tips for Writing Your Family History

A celebrated author and storyteller will be the featured speaker at the November 18 meeting of the South Sebastian County Historical Society. Marilyn Collins, owner of CHS Publishing, will share tips for writing and preserving your family or personal history as a legacy for all generations.  She will sign copies of her popular books including:  You Can Write A Book About Your Family, Memoir Writing Guide, and The Art and Business of Writing Local or Regional History. Collins will sign copies of her books at the meeting. Purchasers will receive a bonus book, Write History Right.

Collins is a frequent conference speaker and workshop leader for groups interested in writing history, narrative stories for genealogy research, regional magazines/special interest magazines, marketing, as well as offering general encouraging tips for writers. Collins is an award-winning author of history books, how-to books/ebooks for writers, and over 100 magazine articles and newspaper features.­­­ Read more about Marilyn at

The November 18 meeting of the South Sebastian County Historical Society will convene at 7 PM at the Farmer’s Bank Community Room , 71 West Center Street, Greenwood. For more information, call 479-996-6357.