Nile and Marzell Smith Museum of African American History continues to share black culture in El Dorado

Arkansas News

EL DORADO, Ark. (KTVE/KARD) — Two brothers are continuing to preserve African American history and culture that occurred in El Dorado.

Many people have driven by an old brick building on Grove Street that appears to be vacant but we can assure there is life within those walls.

The Nile and Marzell Museum of African American history is filled with historical artifacts a lot of which displays some of the traditions and achievements from those who once lived and may still be living in the town.

There are antique artifacts like old washing machines, telephones, printers, projectors and other furniture that could be found in the African American home and in the schools.

“We want to show them not only these facts and ideas but we wanted to share the culture. That’s what this is about is sharing the culture of the black community and especially those who came out of Booker T. Washington High School, a culture that is quickly evaporating and evading,” Director of NMSMAAH, Ralph Smith said.

Smith and his brother Brian are doing what they can to make sure these memories don’t fade away. Their parents, Nile and Marzell, were both educators at Booker T. Washington High School, a school designated for black students.

In 2003, the couple decided they didn’t want any of that history to go away so they founded the museum. It has been in two other locations prior to now being housed in the Carver Building, an old elementary school for blacks.

“They experience both worlds. They experienced the community before integration and they experienced a community after integration,” Smith said.

“They remembered the richness of what I experienced as a child and then they saw the fading away of people actually remembering what happened and some people not even remembering or realizing what happened.”

Smith’s father, Nile, passed away in 2010. His mother, Marzell, died three years later. Since then, Smith and his brother have been maintaining the property.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, schools would come and tour the museum. Each classroom is filled with memorabilia from the arts, sports, history and music industries.

Cynthia Scott was one of the backup singers for Ray Charles.

Willie Frazier was a tight end for the San Diego Chargers. Thurman Walker played with the Green Bay Packers.

Marlon Greene was the first African American pilot hired by a commercial passenger airline carrier. These are just a few of the students from Booker T. Washington High School that left and accomplished great things.

Smith says some of the students that have visited during a tour weren’t even aware of all of the local black history.

“I never will forget some of the black athletes that came over from El Dorado High School. When they looked at some of the things that went on they said they never knew that any of this ever happened. Some of them were actually angry,” Smith said.

Smith says when he receives responses as such, he knows the museum is having an impact on those who come inside.

“This museum is a part of helping us recall and remember and for some introduce the life memories and legacy of a community from which we live now,” he said.

Smith believes it’s going to take everyone to make sure this history continues to live on. Each classroom is filled with items that should make the community proud of where they came from.

He has a vision of the museum expanding and hopes the community will get on board with the efforts.

“It’s not just Ralph Smith and Brian Smith it represents the entire community,” Smith said. “Let’s brainstorm. Let’s come up with some ideas. Let’s help fund what we need to do. So we can reach further out in the community to reach more people.”

If you would like to tour the museum, you contact Smith at 213-909-8246.

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