In the early part of 2014 I pitched the idea of writing an entry on Olly Neal Jr. for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Olly Neal Jr. who is forever called Judge Neal for his many years as an Appellate Court Judge. Neal is a legend in these parts and happens to be my father-in-law. I submitted a few known highlights from his career to support my pitch and it was accepted. I learned quite a bit about Neal. The entry was published in August 2014 two months before he would inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame. Here’s an excerpt from the entry:
Olly Neal Jr. headed up a community health clinic in Marianna (Lee County) in the 1970s, became the first black district prosecuting attorney in Arkansas, and served as a circuit court judge and on the Arkansas Court of Appeals. Historian Grif Stockley described him as a civil rights activist, political agitator, Arkansas Delta advocate, and a “black devil incarnate to many of Marianna’s whites.”
Olly Neal Jr. was born on July 13, 1941, on a farm eleven miles west of Marianna in the rural New Hope community to Ollie Neal and Willie Beatrice Jones Neal. Neal grew up poor in a home with no electricity. His parents impressed upon him and his twelve siblings the importance of education. Neal’s father had only a second-grade education but insisted that his children complete high school, while his mother obtained her college degree in 1959, a year after Neal graduated from high school. “She would drive to school at nights through the week whether it was in Pine Bluff, or Little Rock, or some extension course up at Forrest City,” Neal recalled.