For the month of November and once a month henceforth, Old Independence Regional Museum will focus on one of our many supporters. These individuals have donated their time, talents, and treasures to build OIRM into what it represents today. We are truly blessed and thankful these individuals have chosen to share the richness of their lives to help OIRM and the surrounding communities thrive.
Dr. George E. Lankford III
George Edward Lankford III was born in 1938 in Birmingham, Alabama, to Elaine and George E. Lankford. He graduated from El Dorado High School in 1956 and earned his BA at Louisiana State University in 1960. He received his BD from Princeton Theological Seminary and subsequently his PhD from Indiana University in 1975.
George served as an assistant Presbyterian pastor in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Mobile, Alabama from 1963 – 1971. He loved being a choral musician for both the Presbyterian and Lyon College community choirs.
He began his teaching career at Spring Hill College in Mobile where he taught theology, then continued with positions at Indiana University teaching folklore, at the University of Alabama as the staff archeologist, then finally fulfilled his career at Lyon College where he retired in 2001. In his 25-year career at Lyon (he began while Lyon was Arkansas College) Dr. Lankford was a professor of folklore, archeology, religion, and Native American mythology.
He was very active in the University of Arkansas Endowment for the Humanities Council, Ozark Folk Cultural Center Commission, Arkansas Arts Council, Batesville Community Theater (he is quoted as saying, “Anyone who is a life teacher is also an actor”), Independence County Historical Society, and the Old Independence Regional Museum where he was the board president on the Board of Trustees.
His love of acting, teaching, and history culminated in a two-hour stage production of A Chronicle of Independence County’s Civil War, with actors in Civil War period costume read letters to loved ones during the initial two years of war in Independence County.
As an archeologist, many scholars deem Dr. Lankford as the man who single-handedly changed the narrative of the Trail of Tears. The folklore Dr. Lankford is most renowned for talking, lecturing, and writing about is Native American tales, noting that “…a myth is a sacred legend”.
Dr. Lankford edited and contributed articles to the Independence County Chronicle for many years. He was a prolific author and has written and/or edited a number of books for colleagues, and even a murder mystery: Surprised by Death: A Novel of Arkansas in the 1840s. He was a member of the editorial board of the Arkansas Historical Quarterly and the Arkansas Encyclopedia of History and Culture.
He has been active in a number of state associations, including the American Folklore Society and the Arkansas Historical Association. His awards include Arkansas Professor of the Year and awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Rockefeller Foundation.
A prolific published author, Dr. Lankford loved finding time to travel, bringing his Lyon classes to life with jaunts to the courthouse with students to study to balance his voracious appetites of teaching and traveling together. He was an avid reader (one of his favorite teachers was a high school English instructor who had her class read “…most of the classic fiction of Western tradition in one year.” Not only did Dr. Lankford read books related to his research, writing, and teaching, he also dove into pulp fiction. Dr. Lankford enjoyed an occasional martini and was a closet artist, painting pictures “…no one will ever see. The purpose of painting is to get the words out of my head.”
For all of us at the Old Independence Regional Museum, we welcome Dr. Lankford’s words in our heads. His history for and with the museum has definitely made it a better place to work and visit.