NWA Black Heritage is a 501(c)(3)  non-profit organization dedicated to addressing and correcting the inequalities Black communities face in Northwest Arkansas. We do this by preserving, documenting, and promoting the rich heritage and culture of Black communities in the region. Our mission is to fill gaps in our recorded history while revealing what has guided the racist practices embedded in the American social construct.

To correct this racist culture, we conduct research, document histories, and educate our community on the often overlooked and intentionally suppressed contributions and experiences of Black individuals in Northwest Arkansas. Our focus is on charitable, scientific, and educational purposes. We collaborate with organizations and individuals to reveal the stories of our ancestors and bolster our community's sense of pride and place.

The organization was co-founded in 2008 by the late Melba Lene Smith and Sharon Killian. Melba Smith was a distinguished advocate for Black life both at home and abroad, working to end apartheid, supporting women in developing countries, and writing the history of her ancestors who were enslaved in Washington County, AR. Her grandfather, James Hoover, was a leader in the Black community at Spout Spring/Willow Avenue in Fayetteville, which is the only remaining African American community of the vast number that began throughout the region after the brutal and racist system of American slavery. Sharon Killian now serves as president of the Board and continues to uplift regional communities by centering their art, creating public murals, and teaching gallery practices. She is an essential thought leader in matters of diversity for Crystal Bridges and the Momentary and positively impacts the arts ecosystem in our region.

 Melba Lene Smith, 1945 - 2014

more About melba


Our Board of Directors

Sharon Killian is an award-winning artist, community advocate, and educator. Sharon is passionate about filling in and correcting the historical record of Black history and heritage in Northwest Arkansas where she visited for 14 years before relocating in 2005 as an “empty nester”. She understands that Black history and heritage in the region has suffered the system of erasure immediately set into place in 1865, that it is challenging work to undo or mitigate, and that it must be done by everyone with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in mind. Her work as president of both NWA African American Heritage Association (NWA Black Heritage) and Art Ventures NWA melds culture with art and promotes culturally and historically informed conversation and creative engagement locally, regionally and nationally.

Sharon Killian

Caree A. Banton  is an Associate Professor of African Diaspora History and Director of the African and African American Studies Program at the University of Arkansas.  Her research focuses on movements toward freedom, particularly abolition, emancipation, and colonization. Her book, More Auspicious Shores: Barbadian Migration to Liberia, Blackness, and the Making of the African Republic, explores continuities and mutability in Black experiences of freedom, citizenship, nationhood, and race across the Atlantic world. In addition, Banton hosts a podcast called "Undisciplined" that examines African and African American studies in everyday life.

Caree Banton, Ph.D

Stephanie Conway is a Fayetteville resident with a passion for volunteerism and fundraising. She has over 8 years of consistent volunteer work with Fayetteville Animal Services, including organizing successful fundraisers that have raised over $40,000. She has also volunteered with Project Zero for 5 years and helped with their expansion to NWA. She currently works as a Project Manager at Walmart and is passionate about leveraging Walmart's charitable giving to support causes. Stephanie joined the board of NWA Black Heritage to help foster relationships, engage the community, and raise funds to support the organization's mission.

Stephanie Conway

Cynthia Randolph Cooper is an experienced IT professional with over 10 years of experience managing a service management platform for Walmart, Inc. She is a University of Arkansas, MIS graduate and currently serves as a Technical Program Manager for cloud platforms. Cynthia has a passion for digital citizenship and emerging technologies, including SAP, data analytics, and blockchain. She is also active as a community activist,  educator, and volunteer.

Cynthia Randolph Cooper 

Joe Daniels is an interdisciplinary researcher with a passion for community building, environmental justice, and supply chain sustainability. His work aims to reduce emissions and transition towards zero-emission supply chains. He has conducted award-winning research on airfield heated pavement systems using solar energy, has been granted several fellowships, and published numerous peer-reviewed journal articles. He is also an advocate for diversity, equity, inclusion, racial justice, and community advancement. He aspires to lead Fortune 500 companies into a net positive way of doing business through regenerative business models. Listen to his TEDx Talk

Joe Daniels, Ph.D

Tommie Jo Flowers Davis is a social worker who practiced for 35 years and served on the Arkansas Social Work Licensing Board. She developed the first certified faith-based program in Arkansas and is currently working towards her contractor's license. Despite a motor vehicle accident rendering her disabled, Tommie continues to participate in the transformation of the construction industry towards diversity, equity, and inclusion. She is also committed to continuing her late mother's legacy of building houses in her historically Black community.

Tommie Jo Flowers Davis

Joann L. Goodley is an independent business owner and professional hairstylist with over 25 years of experience in Fayetteville. She has a deep interest in the history and heritage of the Black historic neighborhood in the Spout Run/Willow Avenue area, where her childhood home is located. Her family has held onto the house as a record of their persistence and existence. Goodley attended Lincoln Elementary School and graduated from Fayetteville High School in 1977. She joined the Historic District Commission of the City of Fayetteville in October 2021.

Joann L. Goodley

Jami Lockhart directs geophysical remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS) research for the Arkansas Archeological Survey.  He serves as research faculty in the UA Department of Anthropology and cooperating faculty for the Environmental Dynamics Ph.D. program.  His work integrates geophysical remote sensing, high-accuracy mapping, aerial photo interpretation, image processing, LiDAR analysis, and GIS data development for archeological projects and cultural landscape studies through time.

Jami Lockhart , Ph.D

George Sabo III is a retired Professor of Anthropology at the University of Arkansas and Emeritus Director of the Arkansas Archeological Survey, a unit of the University of Arkansas System. He is co-author of two University of Arkansas Press volumes, Arkansas: A NarrativeHistory and Arkansas: A Concise History.

George Sabo III

Wendell Scurlock has over 9 years of experience in technology and digital services at Walmart and Sam's Club. He is a Staff Technical Program Manager at Sam's Club, specifically for Fresh Merchandising and End of Life Infrastructure. Wendell started his career with Walmart in 2013 as part of the Rotational Leadership Program, which allowed him to gain knowledge in security, business analysis, and support/ops areas. He has also worked on mergers and acquisitions with Jet/Moosejaw/Hayneedle and Walmart Pay. Wendell previously served in the United States Airforce from 2006-2010 as an F-15 and F-10 Crew Chief. He has undergraduate and graduate degrees in Information Systems/Management and many certifications related to agile methodologies and data science. Wendell is also interested in social responsibility, human rights, veteran assistance, community enrichment, fitness, music, and art.

Wendell Scurlock

Jeannie Whayne is a Professor of History at the University of Arkansas and Adjunct Curator of American History at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. With a Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego, she has published over a dozen articles and essays on Arkansas, African American, and Southern history, as well as edited, authored, and co-authored nine books. Her book on the Lee Wilson plantation in northeastern Arkansas, Delta Empire: Lee Wilson and the Transformation of Southern Agriculture, was published with LSU Press. In addition to teaching courses, Whayne frequently teaches the American History Survey, honors classes, and graduate seminars. She has been recognized for her outstanding teaching, service, and scholarly achievements by Fulbright College, the Teaching Academy, the Organization of American Historians, and the Agricultural History Society.

Jeannie Whayne 

LaDawna Hudson Whiteside is an artist, former university art faculty, and realtor with an interest in American history and land/real estate ownership challenges in minority communities. She has roots in rural Oklahoma and is the descendant of a farmer, an orphaned miner’s daughter, a charismatic preacher, and a female factory worker. LaDawna has participated in cleanup efforts at the East Mountain Cemetery and the Historic Black Community on Willow Avenue in Fayetteville, Arkansas,  joined the board of NWA Black Heritage to help realize its mission of recovering, recording, preserving, creating, and sharing Black heritage. She earned her BA and MFA in Fine Arts and completed residencies around the world, most recently in Israel, Mexico, and India, and taught fine arts and design courses at Arkansas Tech University.

LaDawna Hudson Whiteside 

follow us on Social