In 1864, Alida and Calvin Clark, two abolitionist members of the Religious Society of Friends from Indiana, went on a mission trip to Helena, Arkansas. The Clarks had come to render temporary relief to displaced war orphans but instead found a lifelong calling. During their time in Arkansas, they started the school that became Southland College, which was the first institution of higher education for blacks west of the Mississippi, and they set up the first predominately black monthly meeting of the Religious Society of Friends in North America.
Their progressive racial vision was continued by a succession of midwestern Quakers willing to endure the primitive conditions and social isolation of their work and to overcome the persistent challenges of economic adversity, social strife, and natural disaster. Southland’s survival through six difficult and sometimes dangerous decades reflects both the continuing missionary zeal of the Clarks and their successors as well as the dedication of the black Arkansans who sought dignity and hope at a time when these were rare commodities for African Americans in Arkansas.