Change the Block: Sam Ella Jones Ward and the Beginnings of the Reed Memorial CME Church
The ripple effect of change starts at a single point. The point could be an object, place, event, or person. Names are sometimes lost to history, but many survive with little notice. The name of Sam Ella Jones Ward still resonates in a community where she lived nearly one hundred years ago. Born in Prescott, Arkansas, on December 15, 1897, she was eventually embraced and adopted by the family of Snowflake Frost in Little Rock, Arkansas. The 1930 U.S. Census shows the household headed by Willie L. Frost, son of Snowflake. Another son, Eugene; Lulu Cureton, sister of Snowflake; and cousins Lucien and Hattie Henderson are shown with “adopted sister” Sam Ella Jones Ward and her children Edward, Ruth, and Vivian Ward.
Their residence is at 3121 Izard Street in Little Rock. This is the block where change began. Members of the family who wanted to attend the Colored (now Christian) Methodist Episcopal (CME) church service had to travel nearly five miles to Miles Chapel Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. Wanting a more accessible service to attend, community members gathered at the home of Mrs. Snowflake Frost on March 15, 1931, where they held the first service of Evangelist Temple Colored Methodist Episcopal Church.
The founding members were Mrs. Frost, Lula Cureton, Sam Ella Jones Ward, Charlotte Reed, Rev. J. M. Reed, Mose Wells, Bessie Lacy, Alberta King, and Monica Reed. At the annual conference of the CME Church, held in December 1931 in the city of Hot Springs, duly elected delegates petitioned for full connection status for Evangelist Temple. The delegates were Sam Ella Jones Ward, Elder J. M. Reed, and Effie McKee. Evangelist Temple was accepted by the general church at this annual conference.
Sam Ella Jones Ward served as the first Sunday School secretary, and Cora Parker was the first Sunday School superintendent. Alberta King was the first treasurer. The membership purchased a lot at 3101 Izard to build a church. In 1945, Rev. S. T. Anderson led two financial drives to purchase lumber for a new church on that lot. Rev. J. M. Reed, Rev. H. M. Sledge, and Rev. John Green contributed the carpentry work for the new church. The first service in this new building would be a session of the Annual Conference of 1946. The building was incomplete, yet Rev. J. M. Reed, representing the membership, petitioned for and was granted permission to host a session of the conference. The efforts of the membership prompted Bishop Russell to donate $900 toward the completion of the church building.
The name was changed to Reed Memorial CME Church in honor of Rev. J. M. Reed. This wood structure was torn down in 1979 and replaced by a brick structure in 1981 under the guidance of Evanda Evans, son-in-law of Sam Ella Jones Ward, who was known throughout the city for his bricklaying skill.
Sam Ella Jones Ward served this church until her death in March 1990. The ripple effects of her love for the community continue in the generations of her offspring who continue to carry on her work in the church and community. Her love of education is displayed in the annual scholarship named for her to assist youth in the community with educational goals beyond high school.
She introduced me to the concept of genealogy in her Sunday School classes, before I reached double digits in my age. She directed me to record her memories of the church’s beginning in the early 1970s and is credited with directing my educational journey in the field of history. The ripple effect of her changes on the block are carried by the many she educated with her voice and by her actions. My career choice as a specialist in genealogy and local history at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies at the CALS Roberts Library was made possible because I am riding on the wave of one of those ripples.
By Rhonda Stewart, genealogy and local history specialist for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, housed in the CALS Bobby L. Roberts Library of Arkansas History & Art