Walter “Wiley” Jones was born on July 14, 1848 in Madison County, Georgia to George Jones who was a white Georgia planter and his common-law slave wife, Anna. (Walker, 1999: 346) He was an Arkansas, real estate entrepreneur who involved himself also in public transportation, entertainment, and sports as well.
Although his father, promised him liberation shortly after his death, the family realized there were no freedom papers are promised causing them to continue in slavery up until 1865. Wiley showed his hard working skills from a young age. It was at the time of the Civil War that he was under the direction of Confederate General James Yell. Shortly thereafter, General Yell was killed in war. Wiley then reunited with General Yell’s family in Texas where his occupation was driving wagons, and transferring cotton throughout Texas.
He then left the area and found work in farming and as a muleskinner, which is someone who drives mules. (Leslie, 1976)Wiley didn’t settle in one occupation. He was constantly working which allowed him the opportunity to save and make wise investments for the benefit of buying a saloon establishment.
Wiley kept the cycle moving by consistently investing in business ventures. His subsequent investment was in real estate. By this time at around 1880, he had earned a great amount of profit and able to purchase property all over Arkansas.
He was also able to build his own horse race park and planned the Colored State Fair because of all the money he had accrued in the real estate business. (Gatewood, 1974)In 1886, Jones was also given a franchise opportunity from the local city council to establish and run a mule-drawn railway system. This was an important means of transportation for the people of Pine Bluff because the city’s population was growing tremendously. The railway system was also beneficial in other ways because it created jobs for 25 employees. This form of transportation not only provided the people a way to get around the city but Wiley used his entrepreneurship skills by providing a route to his own race track which was obviously a very smart move to make to gain more profit. Regardless of color, Jones’ state fair attracted thousands of people yearly.
The significance of Wiley being able to obtain the franchise was that it was the second company to receive a franchise to provide the city with public transportation. Most of Jones’ railway system profit came during the time of the Colored State Fair while simultaneously providing daily service throughout the year. (Walker, 1999: 345)Due to the fiscal crisis endured by the competing railway company Citizens company, its owners came to a decision to sell all it had in relation to the business for $125,000 to Wiley and his associates, which at that time was an incredible amount of money. Jones obtained the rights to the name of the company and was then operated by he and his business partners for about 3 years. Unfortunately, the company was not as profitable as it should’ve been. In an ironic twist, they had to sell the company back to the original owners for $90,000. Jones did not give up for his persistence was undying.
In 1885, he became partners with Edward Houston, who was a white real investor to create the first modern suburb. This business began to flourish as people were purchasing land to build on the property. He also created another profitable business called the Southern Mercantile Company, which was a wholesale business. By the early 1900’s Wiley became the richest African American in the state of Arkansas and one of the richest in the entire Southern region of the United States. Unfortunately he died in 1904 and most of Jones’ property was ill managed and had to be sold in order to pay the estate. (Walker, 1999: 346)