What makes a leader? Is it circumstantial, innate, or is it a learned behavior? With Pondexter, there was no question, she was born to lead. As a black female in America during the peak of the Civil Rights movement, Pondexter found herself personally affected and joined hand-in-hand with the initiative, pursuing the equity of all individuals at the municipal level and beyond.
Today, she continues to speak for those disenfranchised, leading to the community acknowledging her efforts by honoring her with a local park in her name. What was formerly known as Hobo Jungle Park,1000 Dudley St, Texarkana, AR 71854, is now known as Ermer Dansby Pondexter Sports Complex.
Ermer Dansby Pondexter, was born in Texarkana, Arkansas, but lived in Mandeville , Arkansas, most of her childhood until she left for college. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas, and earned her Master’s degree from Prairie View University.
While a student at Philander Smith College, Pondexter participated with the Little Rock Nine Episode which was responsible for the integration of Central High School. Ermer’s first professional employment began as a teacher for Lincoln High School before moving on to Magnolia High School where she developed ties with The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Ermer returned to her hometown of Texarkana, Arkansas and worked to poll the community to identify leaders who could pave the way of removing segregation in local schools. She began guiding groups to speak with community officials and school board members, forcing those in power to address the issue head-on in a public format. There was no hiding anymore, the issue had to be heard.
The response from the community was split between those who supported Pondexter and those who opposed her initiatives. The issue of segregation and civil rights became so heated that at one point, a cross was burned in Pondexter’s parents front yard as they were away at a relatives funeral.
Despite the dramatic, egregious actions from some in the community, all Texarkana campuses were integrated within a year’s time. Pondexter’s hard work was validated, it was paying off. Her next pursuit was to fully integrate Wright Patman Lake, where black people were only allowed to swim in a small designated area.
Enough was enough, Pondexter and over twenty of her friends drove to Wright Patman Lake and began to swim in the area with a sign displayed, “Whites Only.” She and the peaceful protesters were arrested and placed in jails throughout the area as far as Linden, Texas.
The State of Arkansas NAACP President received word of what occurred in Texarkana and personally drove down to visit with Pondexter. The NAACP President met with Federal Officials and informed the City that all protesters involved were to be released because the Dam is Federal property and the public facility was open to all people regardless of race, creed, or gender.
Years later, Local civil rights advocates traversed being allowed front entrance into businesses downtown Texarkana such as restaurants, where blacks had to use a service entrance in alley ways. Pondexter leveraged her voice to empower others, facing those in power head-on both at the municipal level and federal level.
The President of the NAACP contacted Pondexter and invited her to the infamous March on Washington D.C., where she was given $15.00 from her parents for traveling expenses.
Times were difficult, explained Pondexter. “I ate crackers, cheese, and sodas for the 5 days I was away.”
For years, she continued to support those who are marginalized. Through her work with the Ark-Tex-Council of Governments Job Training Partnership Act, Arkansas Development Council, and thirty-two collective years working at the city level, Pondexter has given a lifetime of service to her community.
Pondexter has spent over 5 decades fighting for the rights of others; now, other people are fighting for her. After an uproar of emotions over the decision to change Hobo Jungle Park to Ermer Dansby Pondexter Sports Complex, local residents and friends spoke up in support for Pondexter, explaining what an asset she has been and continues to be for so many people- people who don’t have a voice or can’t help themselves.
She is currently on over twenty-five various local and/or state organization boards or accolades, such as: Director of Citizens Making a Difference, Treasurer of Teen Court, and Treasurer of Miller County NAACP.
Pondexter was nominated by Director Tim Johnson, Ward 3, Texarkana, Arkansas, who spoke highly of her initiatives, both past and present. This year alone, Pondexter spent her free time helping over three-hundred residents register to vote in Miller County.
She helps all in need, not just those of color. Pondexter explains that she has always tried to help those who need assistance most, or those who she personally meets in her community. While most people are happy staying secluded in their homes living their lives in privacy, Pondexter is placing herself at the frontlines, exposing herself to criticism and even danger.
The newly renamed, Ermer Dansby Pondexter Sports Complex, is a symbol of her work towards integration: a public place where all people can come together in peace and happiness. With $300,000 in grant funds to be allocated in updating park facilities, the facility will truly be a place where people can be proud.