Josephine Pankey: Pioneering Black Developer

Josephine Pankey built a reputation for herself in Little Rock as a businesswoman, educator and philanthropist despite a culture hostile both to the rights of women and of African-Americans.

The founder of the Pankey community on Little Rock's western outskirts was born in Cleveland in 1870, five years after the Civil War ended and seven years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

Little of Pankey's early life appears to have been documented in detail. She was born Josephine Irving, the daughter of William and Catharine Irving. Her father declared his occupation to be "White Washer" in the 1880 United States Census. In that census record of 1880, Josephine, at age 10, is listed as the oldest of four children.

Pankey attended Oberlin College near Cleveland from 1889 to 1891 as a high school student in Oberlin's college preparatory program.

She left Oberlin College, one of the most progressive colleges in the United States in its attitude toward women and African-Americans, and, at about the age of 20, moved to the strictly segregated South.

The explanation for the move may have been an early marriage. In the 1900 census record, Pankey is listed as the wife of Eugine Harris and was living with him as a boarder in the home of the Jacks family of Pine Bluff. Pankey's occupation is listed on the census form as "music teacher."

Four years later, Josephine Pankey married Samuel Pankey, a Little Rock widower with seven children, and gave her previous name as "Mrs. Josephine Harris" on the 1904 marriage license.

At age 31, Josephine Pankey was 17 years younger than her new groom and not much older than his oldest children.

According to a 1921 Arkansas Democrat profile, Samuel, or S.H., Pankey was born to a slave woman before the end of the Civil War. When Josephine Harris married him, he was a 48-year-old mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service.

After her marriage to Samuel Pankey, Josephine Pankey soon became known as an educator, musician, businesswoman and tireless community volunteer.

She volunteered as a teacher for the children of black servants who worked in Little Rock's affluent Heights neighborhood, lent out books from her personal collection to make up for the lack of a public library open to black people and began buying and selling real estate, which led to the eventual development of the Pankey community.

Josephine Pankey was still a resident of Pankey's addition when she died in 1954 at age 83. She is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Little Rock.