Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System
Picture of Annie Zachary PikeButler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System
ANNIE ZACHARY PIKE: She’s had a life of public service.

Black women are often overlooked in narratives about African-American and women’s lives in the rural South. With woefully few exceptions, analyses of their experiences have been limited to descriptions of their marginalized, oppressed and impoverished status. However, a closer examination of sources better reveals the nuances of agrarian black women’s lives in the 20th-century rural South in ways that highlight their self-developed agency, autonomy and community advocacy. One example of this is Annie Ruth Zachary Pike, a Philips County homemaker, farmer and politician. Her story challenges traditional, negative and often inaccurate portrayals of rural black women’s lives and labors, with a particular focus on the Arkansas Delta, in the mid- to late-20th century.

Annie Ruth Davidson was born in 1931 to Mississippi-born farmer Cedel Davidson and his wife, Arkansas born Carrie (née Washington) in Big Creek, in Phillips County. She was first educated at Trenton Elementary School in Trenton, also in Phillips County. Later, she attended the Consolidated White River Academy (CWRA), a coeducational boarding school in Monroe County. Founded by Black Baptists in 1893, CWRA was one of nearly 100 black boarding schools that existed in the country before the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. While at CWRA from the middle to the late 1940s, Davidson became class secretary and eventually class president. She also played baseball and basketball, and was a Glee Club member.


In 1949, after graduating from CWRA the previous year, Davidson moved to St. Louis to attend the Homer G. Phillips Hospital School of Nursing. Founded in 1937 and named after a black attorney trained at Howard Law School in Washington, D.C., the hospital provided medical training to hundreds of black doctors, nurses, and technicians.

Davidson completed nursing school in 1952 and returned to Arkansas. Two years later, she married Grover Cleveland Zachary, a black landowner nearly 43 years her elder. In 1959, the Zachary won first place in the “Plant to Prosper Balanced Farming” competition sponsored by the Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis.


In 1962, Grover Zachary suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. Zachary assumed control of their farming operation, learned and adopted new technologies and innovative farming techniques. To operate her family’s farm more effectively, she turned to black Phillips County extension service agents employed by the Arkansas Agricultural Cooperative Extension Service (AACES). Zachary learned about fertilizers from the agents, who performed soil fertility tests to determine the type and best use for her land. Reading federal agricultural circulars bolstered her knowledge and the farm, which grew soybeans, oats, wheat, milo, and cotton, thrived as a result.

Zachary was also a community activist in Phillips County. She was a member of the Arkansas Negro State Home Demonstration Council, a network of rural black women’s clubs organized in 1936. In 1963, she was elected vice president. In 1965, Zachary was named “home demonstration woman of the year” during a convention held at the segregated National Baptist Hotel and Bathhouse in Hot Springs.


Annie Zachary was involved in local and state politics during the 1960s. Of the 44,000 individuals residing in Phillips County, 60 percent were black. However, less than one-fourth of the county’s voting-age black population was actually registered to vote.

Black Arkansans had been kept from exercising their political rights and privileges since the end of Reconstruction through white primaries, poll taxes, physical violence and comparably unjust means. In the 1960s, Zachary helped organized a sociopolitical campaign to break the Democratic stranglehold in the state. They joined forces to back Winthrop Rockefeller, a white Republican and New York millionaire who had relocated to Arkansas in 1953 and founded Winrock Enterprises and Farms in Conway County. Rockefeller ran for governor in 1964, but 57 percent of the state’s electorate voted to keep the incumbent, Orval Faubus, in office.

When Rockefeller ran for governor again in 1966, Zachary became the coordinator of the Phillips County Republican Party. She traveled door-to-door to convince African Americans to vote for Rockefeller because he had a feasible plan to integrate black people into Arkansas politics in a way unachieved since the first Reconstruction and by highlighting Rockefeller’s commitment to reforming the state’s cruel penitentiary system.

Rockefeller won the 1966 gubernatorial election, garnering 80 percent of the black vote. Once inaugurated the following year, he became the first Republican in Arkansas to hold the state’s highest political office since Elisha Baxter (1873-1874). Governor Rockefeller rewarded Zachary’s work by appointing her to the Arkansas Welfare Board. She was the first black appointee by an Arkansas governor in the 20th century. Zachary quickly became known as the “black lady who challenged the system, who cared about the poor, the needy, and the indigent.”


Zachary’s prominence within the Arkansas Republican party prompted an assortment of political appointments from the late 1960s into the early 1970s. In 1969, President Richard M. Nixon appointed her to the White House Conference on Aging. She was a member of the Technical Committee on Nutrition, which allowed her to address concerns about elderly malnutrition and food insecurity, particularly in rural Arkansas and elsewhere in the South. In 1970, Zachary was appointed to the Arkansas Economic Development Advisory Council, the Arkansas Farmers Home Administration (AFHA) Advisory Committee and the United States Department of Agriculture Citizens Advisory Committee on Civil Rights.

In 1972, Arkansas Republicans elected Zachary to represent them at the Republican National Convention (RNC) held in Miami Aug.21-23. She was named co-chairperson of the platform subcommittee and sat on the RNC’s resolutions committee (a position that allowed her to introduce a formal statement demanding increased attention to sickle cell anemia) and was co-chair of an RNC subcommittee on human concerns. Two other black women from Arkansas, Marianna farm wife Willa Howard and Little Rock educator Mildred Tennyson, were alternates for the state delegation to the RNC, thus making the Arkansas delegation the most diverse in the state’s history.

While in Miami, Zachary met with the National Federation of Republican Women (NFRW). First lady Patricia Nixon and her daughters, Julie and Tricia, also attended the meeting, as did Elinor Agnew, wife of former Vice President Spiro Agnew. While at the meeting, Zachary, who had been introduced by radio and television personality Arthur “Art” Linkletter, told NFRW members in a speech, “I have definitely been a guinea pig in this race. But to make progress, someone has to make great sacrifices.”

She not only served as a state delegate to the RNC but also in 1972, she became the first black person in Arkansas to vie for an elected office during the 20th century when she ran for the state Senate with the campaign slogan “Let’s Get It All Together.” Zachary did not win, but she demonstrated that black and white Arkansans would vote for a qualified candidate regardless of skin color. As she recalled, “The tally sheet shows that I lost, but I know that I didn’t. I won in practically every box in [Philips County], and the support that I got from both races was just tremendous. At the polls I didn’t win, but deep down in my heart I still feel that I was a winner.” Zachary’s influence within the Arkansas Republican Party led to her being elected her vice president of the Arkansas Minority Republican Organization, a group whose members sought to bring more African Americans into the state Republican Party. She additionally inspired black women to run for public offices throughout Arkansas.

After her husband’s death in 1973, Zachary assumed full responsibility of the family farm, but she remained politically and socially active. She served on several boards: Arkansas Social Services;  the National Conference of Christians and Jews; the countywide and Marvell local Office of Equal Opportunity; and the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, and was vice president of the Marvel Rural Water Commission (MRWC).

In 1975, Zachary and other MRWC members met with the Delta Utilities Service Co., which operated under the auspices of the National Water Demonstration Project headquartered at Marianna in Lee County. Delta Utilities provided grant money and loans to rural communities to help their leaders plan and design water and sewage systems. Zachary and her husband had in 1970 used a company grant to develop 47 acres of land they called the Zachary Subdivision. This allowed poor and working-class African Americans in Marvell to become homeowners. Governor Rockefeller was among those who attended the groundbreaking ceremony in 1975.

Zachary remarried in 1977 to Lester Pike of Postelle. He died in 1997. In 1979, she helped establish National Teachers’ Day.

Zachary Pike’s substantial record of public activism continued into the 1980s. In 1985, the Arkansas Education Association recognized her many years of volunteer work. Additional public service included a stint on the Arkansas Tobacco Control Board 1999-2001. In 2002 in recognition of her dedication to the community, Phillips County Road 125, which ran through Zachary farmland, was renamed Annie Zachary Pike Road. Lt. Gov. Winthrop P. Rockefeller, Governor Rockefeller’s son, noted, “… every Arkansan owes a tremendous debt to her and those she has influenced in her lifetime.”

Now almost 90 years old, Annie Zachary Pike still resides on the family farm in Marvell. She continues to participate in community events and is a longtime member of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. Her life as a homemaker, farmer and politician clearly disrupt narratives about black women’s lives in Southern agrarian spaces. They were clearly more than their labor and their struggles as they fomented long unheralded, but deeply meaningful, social, political and economic change in 20th-century rural Arkansas.

From the author’s “ ‘Been A Guinea Pig in this Race’: Annie Ruth Zachary Pike, Arkansas Homemaker, Farmer and Politician,” International Journal of Africana Studies, Spring-Summer 2018: 7-24.