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How To Destroy A Town Part 1: Hughes, Arkansas

Hughes, Arkansas, the second-largest town in St. Francis County, has by all accounts been a resilient town. It was the home or birthplace of many great blues musicians, including Johnny Shines. It survived the Flood of 1937, an event so severe that it sticks in the memory of the area, and it has survived fires and the decline of agriculture. But it could not survive the decision of the Arkansas State Department of Education last summer to dissolve its school district and forcibly consolidate it with West Memphis, over 26 miles away on poor, two-lane highways. Hughes is merely the latest town to be victimized by a vicious state law which requires the dissolving and merging of school districts whenever a school district falls below 350 students. The law makes no provisions for the wishes of the town’s residents or the students, either with regard to keeping the local school district open, nor with what district they would prefer to attend if their district must be closed. Nor does the law require the receiving district to keep local schools open, even when students would otherwise have to travel long distances, such as the 50-mile roundtrip per day that Hughes students now face, unless their parents decide to relocate to West Memphis

. Hughes has lost an estimated 400 residents since 2010, and doubtless are losing many more by the day, largely because of the school situation. The local shopping center, which contained the town’s only food store, is now completely abandoned. Downtown looks even worse, with many old, decrepit and abandoned buildings. Hughes High School is abandoned, including the football field that was renamed for Auburn coach Gus Malzahn with such fanfare just two years ago. And even more shocking is the ruins of Mildred Jackson Elementary School, the campus of what was once the Black high school in Hughes. Not only is it abandoned, but in ruins, as part of the building has collapsed due to a fire. It is clear that the building has been vandalized and broken into.

Not that the school situation is the cause of everything that has happened in Hughes. There is little industry there, and St. Francis County is not a rich county. Agriculture is not what is was, opportunity is limited, and close proximity to West Memphis and Memphis has encouraged many young people to move away. But the close proximity to Memphis could have been an asset rather than a curse. With proper planning, a better road link to Memphis, and a local school system, Hughes could conceivably have become a bedroom community for those who work in Memphis. It has many historic buildings and homes.

But to save towns like Hughes, the school consolidation law would have to be repealed.  Local communities that want to retain their own school districts should be allowed to do so. And in areas like many counties in Eastern Arkansas, where declining populations are wreaking havoc on local school districts, the state ought to consider the formation of county-based school systems, such as those in Tennessee and Mississippi, which would allow local high school like the one in Hughes to remain open. Without schools, no town can ever be renewed.


  1. D Bodie

    I remember when Hughes was a thriving town juke joints Lula Mae, Elnora Place,Chatter Box,MK store.Many more businesses including there own medical clinic,sad to know that this town is dying because of the economic declined for this town. My family moved from Hughes about 45 year ago, but I still remember my earlier childhood days there.

    1. Lyle Beck

      Dont forget that the only grocery store was killed when an idiot set fire to the Dollar store next door. It seems he was mad at the manager, his cousin, and wanted to get even….THAT mentality helped kill Hughes!!!

  2. Doris Richardson

    My father and his brother , twins AC ,JC lived there and treated badly. 50’s 60’s and I never heard from them again
    I wish someone could give me answers. RICHARDSON

    1. Bridgeforth

      I Remember A young lady that lived in Hughes in the 1960’s–(Shirley “Big Bones” Jones) she was affectionately known as. Shirley was a good friend to myself, Jesse Bridgeforth, Frank Hester,J.W. Macon and Mozell LaGrone. Would love to hear from you Shirley–Jesse–Ilinois

  3. G Latham

    Most of my family came from the Hughes school system. We were deeply entrenched in the town: socially, academically and athletically. It pains our hearts to see what has become of Hughes. Hopefully, my young cousin and current mayor, with the helping hand of God, will turn things around.

    1. Jesse Bridgeforth II

      I Was Raised In Hughes, Along With My Mother And Siblings(1952-1967). That’s When Hughes Was A Bustling Little Town. I Go Back To Visit From Time To Time And It’s A Shame How It Has Gone Down Hill.

  4. Carla Jones

    I am looking for assistance from anyone reading my request. I am the eldest granddaughter of Mr. Willie McGown ” Bill Toad” and my blind grandmother Mrs. Corrine. They are from Hughes, Arkansas on the plantation by The Stinson Store and Mud Lake. They have two children males, born blind and other kids. Her family members are the Hawkins, Paine or Payne, and Harris. Please help me finding any information.

  5. Sherry Renee Lee

    I grew up on Dillihunty Cotton plantation. My dad run the cotton gin and work at the John Deere. I graduated in 1980 from Hughes, High School. I’m trying to find a copy of the 1980 year book. I hope somebody will have a copy. I miss Hughes.

    1. Trese

      My Grandma was involved in the horrible deadly Union Pacific collision which killed 38 ppl including Her dear Husband William Hughes.
      She’s currently residing In Kansas City Mo at age 92.
      I was hoping to reunite others with love ones. McGowan, Conways

      1. J. Bridgeforth

        Hello, I also grew up in Hughes AR. MY experiences were a bit different from yours. During the late spring thru the early part of the fall, my mother, my two sisters and one brother, worked ten hours a day five days a week in the extremely hot Arkansas sun for three dollars a day on Charles Adam’s plantation. I didn’t get to the racism yet, but I’ll get into that another time. J. Bridgeforth

  6. John Stamos

    It’s sad to see Hughes continue to fade away. At this point it would take jobs and a boom in the population to bring the community and schools back to what it once was. The town we all love so much will never be the same. In another 10 years it will probably look like Madison, Widner, or Brickey.

  7. Jeff Crum

    You’re missing a lot of facts… like all the missing funds from the school, the lies on headcount at the school, the testing infractions at the school and US Highway 79 is far from a bad two lane road. Seems like a propaganda piece written by the former school administration.

    Hughes has been declining since the remove of the rail service.

    I’m a graduate of Ole Hughes High and I am proud of that. In the 80’s it was one of the top schools in the state in scores. The end of the life of the school was a shame of how it was managed and the quality of the education, as shown by the test scores. We had a all class reunion before the closure and I was appalled at the conditions at the campus, the lack of simple maintenance that was let happen.

    Maybe a little more research would be useful in a fair and balanced piece with facts about what really happen at the school, the largest employer of the town.

  8. Micah

    Sadly our elected leaders care more about talking, rather than doing. Let’s quit talking about programs (CRT) that don’t exist in our state and focus on saving our schools. I can’t imagine the burden of having a child go to school 26 miles from their homes does to a family that’s low income.

  9. Pamela Nelson

    West Memphis has schools but that place has also tremendously declined over the last 35 years. You don’t roam that city on a bike anymore at all. Not safe even during the day…. Very sad.

    1. J. Bridgeforth

      Hello, I also grew up in Hughes AR. MY experiences were a bit different from yours. During the late spring thru the early part of the fall, my mother, my two sisters and one brother, worked ten hours a day five days a week in the extremely hot Arkansas sun for three dollars a day on Charles Adam’s plantation. I didn’t get to the racism yet, but I’ll get into that another time. J. Bridgeforth

  10. Does anyone know why, about, etc. That the Sweet Home Church AND CHURCH GRAVE YARD on Earl Beck Rd were bulldozed. There are only two existing grave markers that I could see now. Previously when I explored the grave yard there were many, many headstones and grave markers I remember one as late as the 1980s and and as early as the late 20s. It seems a shame to move bodies that had rested in peace for so long…I’m only assuming they were moved along with the headstones and markers. It’s recorded as a public cemetery Gps: 34.92658, -90.38168
    Cemetery ID: 2654422.

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