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Encyclopedia Of Arkansas Minute: Mary Lee McCrary Ray

Born around 1880, Mary Lee McCrary Ray would become Arkansas’s first African American home demonstration agent.

Mary Lee McCrary graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in 1897, after which she taught in private schools in Alabama and South Carolina, urging students to pursue economic initiatives. She switched to public education at Langston, Okla., in 1900 and within six years owned a thriving dressmaking business.

She married Harvey Cincinnatus Ray and they moved to Little Rock in 1916, with Harvey becoming the first Black employee of the Arkansas Agricultural Extension Service.

Mary Ray was promoted to Local District Home Demonstration Agent for Extension Work, Negro, in 1918, and promoted economic self-sufficiency through programs that included garden clubs, canning and poultry demonstrations, and school lunch programs.

Mary Lee Ray died in 1934 and her husband remarried; his daughter from that union was one of the Little Rock Nine. You can read the entire Encyclopedia or Arkansas entry at

Mark Christ produces and hosts Encyclopedia of Arkansas Minute on KUAR. He is head of adult programming for the Central Arkansas Library System. He previously served as community outreach director for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, which he joined in 1990 after eight years as a journalist.