By RACHEL PARKER DICKERSON

LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

Today the Twin Groves Cultural Center, which celebrates two figures in the town's history, is opening at 10 a.m. next to the Twin Groves Library.

Albessie Thompson, a native of the area, is responsible for the development of the cultural center. It houses an exhibit chronicling the story of Hester Agnew Jiles and Mary Thompson, two former slaves who migrated from South Carolina to Arkansas and became two of the first black pioneers in the area. The exhibit was partially funded by the Arkansas Humanities Council. A number of volunteers also helped.

According to the exhibit, about 14 years after Emancipation, the two women migrated along with other former slaves in search of opportunity. The Homestead Act of 1862 enabled ex-slaves to own land, and the railroad was selling land to individuals at low prices. Historical documents show that Mary Thompson purchased more than 80 acres for $35, the exhibit says. Hester Agnew Jiles and her family likely homesteaded their land, according to Albessie Thompson.

The exhibit notes "The community of Twin Groves is almost entirely comprised of descendents from these two great women."

The opening of the cultural center today is being held in conjunction with the Thompson family reunion, which will be a two-day event.

The exhibit includes information on Mary Thompson and Hester Agnew Jiles as well as photographs of them and their children.

"What we tried to do is show the generation of how these two women came to this community, built a home, and from this you have this community of people," Albessie Thompson said. "That's the whole genesis of this. Mary Thompson heard about the land, 80 acres by the Cadron Creek. The land is still owned by the family, some of it."

She said the exhibit demonstrates "how two people can influence and make a difference. That's the main thing we wanted to show. Young people don't know how all this happened. We wanted to make sure people know 150 years from now how this town got started."

Mary Thompson married twice. Her first husband was Reddick Jones Sr. After his death, she married Greene Thompson. They had three children, Gus Thompson, Frank Thompson and Katie (Thompson) Brewer.

Hester Jiles married three times. Her first husband was Rev. Benjamin Evans, pastor of Mount Pisgah Baptist Church. Their children were John Evans, Benjamin Evans Jr., Pierce Evans, Hester Evans-Nealy, Ida Evans Garretts, Lou Evans Morris, Gracie Evans Thompson, Mattie Evans Ealy, Karo Evans and Canzeta Evans.

Following the death of Benjamin Evans Sr., Hester married Lawrence Cain of Damascus. Her third husband was Alfred Jiles.

Gus Thompson Sr., a son of Mary Thompson, married Birdie Evans, a daughter of Hester Jiles.

Gus and Grace "Birdie" (Evans) Thompson had eight children: Calvin, Semon Frank, Gus Nathaniel, Hester, Austria, Evans, Sifus and Navi.

Albessie Thompson is a granddaughter of Gus and Birdie Evans.

"They were farmers," she said. "He spent most of his time farming; she spent most of her time as a homemaker. They made a good living."

She said they sent all their children to boarding school because there was no black high school in the area at the time, and they sent all of their children to college who wanted to go.

"My grandfather ended up going to college at the nearest state supported black college, AM&N (Arkansas Mechanical and Normal College, now University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff). My father attended AM&N too."

The Thompson family tied its reunion to the exhibit, Albessie Thompson said. Among the activities planned is a birthday celebration for Sifus Thompson, the last surviving son of Gus Jr. and Birdie Thompson.

(Staff writer Rachel Parker Dickerson can be reached by e-mail at rachel.dickerson@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1277. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)