Floyd Brown, by all accounts, was an extraordinary man. Fresh out of Tuskegee Institute, he arrived here in 1919 with $2.85 in his pocket and an obsessive dream nurtured by the teaching of Booker T. Washington.
Brown, one of 10 children of a Mississippi tenant farmer, had worked on plantations as a boy. And at the age of 21, he had found his way to Washington's inspirational knee in Alabama. But Brown was so deficient in the basics that Tuskegee set up a special class -- equal to the fifth grade -- to lift him to a competitive level.
The dream he inherited from Washington was to create a school for young rural blacks shut out by segregation and poverty. It would be built on the Tuskegee model, offering high school level training in the practical arts and academic subjects with a strong dose of moral teaching.
So Brown, then 28, came to this desperately poor east Arkansas delta country in 1919 and went to work. He bought 20 acres of land on credit; a benefactor donated two mules and a new harness; someone else financed a wagon; lumber was donated, and the project began.
The Fargo Agricultural School opened in 1920 with one teacher and 15 children. Brown beat the bushes for financial support and for students, and young blacks eager for enlightenment came streaming in. Those too poor to pay tuition ($7 for room and board in the 1930s) worked off their debt on the school farm.
Even at that, some could not attend. Earl Farr, a semi-retired black farmer from nearby Phillips County, recently recalled that he visited the school in 1938 to see a football game and to visit his future wife, then a Fargo student.
"Dr. Brown went around and visited parents, talking about his school. I first met him in 1937 at my cousins' place. He was a quiet-type man. I tried to get a scholarship because my parents weren't able to send me to school. I could have got in by working at the school in the summer. But I wasn't able to do that, and $7 was quite a lot of money then, so I couldn't attend," he said.
The Fargo school motto summed up Brown's purpose: "Thinking of others first and serving where we can best serve."
In a 1942 school publication, which noted that yearly tuition and board had risen to $15, Brown expanded on that: "It is true that all of the young people who attend school cannot be professionals, but they can at least make a living and be a good citizen."
Many who did not go on to college returned to family farms with their new skills in agriculture and homemaking. Other Brown disciples, like those of Booker T. Washington, made their way across the country and continued in the spirit of their teacher.
Brown and his wife, Lillian, operated the Fargo school until 1949, with enrollment surpassing several hundred. The Browns' age and a changing world led them to turn over the site -- by then, a sophisticated complex on more than 700 acres -- to the state government.
The state razed the Browns' laboriously constructed buildings and replaced them with a correctional institution for girls in the 1960s. That was abandoned finally, and the state put the property up for sale.
A winning bid of $90,000 for the buildings and 266 acres was entered in 1984 by the fledgling Arkansas Land and Farm Development Corp., a privately funded black farmers' organization that is patterned much along the lines of the self-help philosophy that seemed to guide Floyd Brown.
The only visible memento of the Brown era and the change he brought to this part of the country is a small museum set up by the corporation in one of the abandoned prison buildings. It is an inspiring display of photos, records and letters from former pupils who wrote of their fondness for their days at Fargo.
The corporation, which receives much of its funding from a foundation set up by the late Winthrop Rockefeller, a governor of the state, has drawn up a 10-year development plan. It includes a park for small industry, vocational training for the jobless, a model instructional farm for young people -- now overseen by Earl Farr -- and promotion of vegetable and crafts cooperatives.
Beyond that, the dreamers who oversee the corporation's work envision a time when Third World youngsters can be brought to Fargo, housed in the dormitory, taught in the classrooms and shown in the fields how they can improve agriculture in their countries.
Corporation President Ephron H. Lewis Sr. and board member Harrison Locke, rice farmers here in the delta, went to Mali last year to plant the seeds of an exchange that could bring students to Fargo. They plan a similar mission this spring to Guyana, which wants to know more about improved rice production.
So in a large sense, Floyd Brown's spirit lives in Fargo.
"Dreams for this place?" Harrison Locke asked rhetorically. "Man, sometimes I hate to wake up."