Annie Zachary Pike: Arkansas Homemaker, Farmer and Politician
Cherisse Jones-Branch, Arkansas State University
Annie Ruth Davidson Zachary Pike was born in 1931 in Big Creek, Arkansas in Phillips County to Mississippi-born farmer Cedel Davidson and native Arkansan Carrie (née Washington). She was first educated at Trenton Elementary School in Trenton, Arkansas, a town located in Phillips County. Later, she attended the Consolidated White River Academy (CWRA), a co-educational boarding school, founded by Black Baptists in 1893, in Monroe County. While at CWRA from the middle to the late 1940s, Davidson was class secretary and president. She also played baseball, basketball, and was a member of the Glee Club.
In 1949, after graduating from CWRA in 1948, Davidson moved to St. Louis, Missouri, to attend the segregated Homer G. Phillips Hospital School of Nursing. Davidson completed nursing school in 1952 and returned to Arkansas. Two years later, she married Grover Cleveland Zachary, a black Phillips County landowner nearly forty-three years her elder. In 1959, the Zacharys, which included their son, Victor, were named “landowner sweepstakes” champions of a “Plant to Prosper” agricultural contest.
In 1962, Grover Zachary suffered a stroke that resulted in partial paralysis. Annie Zachary assumed control of their farming operation. She ensured the productivity of the farm by adopting new technologies, learning innovative farming techniques, and by relying on black extension service agents employed by the Arkansas Agricultural Cooperative Extension Service (AACES). Reading extension circulars bolstered her knowledge and the farm, which grew soybeans, oats, wheat, milo, and cotton, thrived as a result.
While Zachary was a successful farmer she 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 additionally involved in local and state politics during the 1960s. She helped organized a sociopolitical campaign to break the Democratic stranglehold in the state by supporting New Yorker Winthrop Rockefeller, a White Republican and millionaire who had relocated to Arkansas in 1953 and founded Winrock Enterprises and Farms in Conway County. Rockefeller ran for governor in 1964, but lost when but fifty-seven percent of the state’s electorate voted to keep Orval Faubus in office.
When Rockefeller ran for governor again in 1966, Zachary became coordinator of the Phillips County Republican Party. She traveled door to door to convince African Americans to vote for Rockefeller because of his plan to integrate Black people into Arkansas politics in a way unachieved since the first Reconstruction by emphasizing his commitment to reforming the state’s cruel penitentiary system.
Winthrop 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 in 1873–1874. Governor Rockefeller rewarded Zachary’s support by appointing her to the Arkansas Welfare Board. She was the first black statewide board appointee by an Arkansas governor in the twentieth 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 led 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 further 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, Florida, from August 21 to 23. She was named co-chairperson of the platform subcommittee and sat on the RNC’s resolutions committee (a position that allowed her 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 it the most diverse in the state’s history.
While in Miami, Zachary met with the National Federation of Republican Women. First lady Thelma Nixon and her daughters Julie and Tricia also attended the meeting, as did Elinor Agnew, wife of former vice-president Spiro Agnew. Not only was Zachary a state delegate to the RNC but in 1972, she became the first black person in Arkansas to vie for an elected office during the twentieth century when she competed for a seat in the state senate. She did not win, but she demonstrated that Black and White Arkansans would vote for a qualified candidate regardless of skin color. 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 joined the Arkansas Social Services Board, became a member of the National Conference of Christians and Jews Board of Directors, the countywide and local Marvell board of the Office of Equal Opportunity, the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, and was vice-president of the Marvel Rural Water Commission (MRWC).
In 1975, Zachary and other members of the MRWC met with the Delta Utilities Service Company which operated under the auspices of the National Water Demonstration Project headquartered at Marianna in Lee County, Arkansas. Delta Utilities provided grant money and loans to rural communities to help their leaders plan and design water and sewage systems. In 1970, she and her husband used a company grant to develop forty-seven acres of land they called the Zachary Subdivision. As a result poor and working-class African Americans in Marvell were able to their own homes. Arkansas governor Winthrop Rockefeller was among those who attended the ground-breaking ceremony in 1975. Zachary also remarried in 1977 to Lester Pike of Postelle, Arkansas (he died in 1997) and in 1979, employed her local and national connections to help establish National Teachers’ Day.
Zachary Pike’s substantial record of public service continued into the 1980s. In 1985, the Arkansas Education Association recognized her many years of volunteer service. Additional public service included a stint on the Arkansas Tobacco Control Board from 1999 to 2001. In 2002, in recognition of her dedication to the community, Phillips County Road 125, which runs through Zachary farmland, was renamed Annie Zachary Pike Road.
Now almost ninety years old, Annie Zachary Pike still resides on the family farm in Marvell, Arkansas. She remains active community events and is a longtime member of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church.
Cherisse Jones-Branch, “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.