As a child, he ran and played along the Arkansas River. Today, he runs Fort Smith as its first Black mayor.
Ask George McGill the place that shaped him into the man – and leader – he is, and he’ll give you one answer.
“I attribute a lot of things I’ve accomplished and the skills I’ve learned back to Lincoln High School,” said McGill. “Back in the day, the first word that came to mind with Lincoln High School was ‘excellence.’ We prided ourselves on excellence in every endeavor – on the athletic field, in the drama or business club, in everything.”
While only a portion of the original building still stands, its foundation for reaching higher remains. The students learning, though, are five years old and younger. That’s because you’ll now find Lincoln Childcare Center (LCC), a nonprofit shaping preschoolers for success, on the grounds of the former Lincoln High.
“Those who run LCC kept Lincoln in the name,” said McGill. “It’s a constant reminder of the philosophy of excellence. We love it because they’ve embraced the name of the school that started it all.”
For the past several years, Regions Bank has supported LCC, a United Way agency, in its commitment to education. Earlier this year, the bank made a $2,500 contribution supporting LCC programs. Associates are also teaching a series of bilingual Regions Next Step financial education sessions covering budgeting, credit and more to LCC staff and parents.
“Fort Smith has a tremendous sense of pride related to Lincoln High School and now Lincoln Child Care Center,” said Megan Nichols, Commercial Banking relationship manager and market executive for Regions Bank in Fort Smith. “The Lincoln creed of ‘Excellence’ has transformed our community tenfold through the accomplishments of alumni like Mayor McGill, and it continues today with Lincoln Childcare Center enhancing the quality of life for us all.”
Following his graduation from Lincoln High, McGill’s early accomplishments included earning a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education and a Master’s in Business. In between, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, which held special meaning given the military first brought his family to the city he now proudly leads.
“My great-grandfather fought in the Civil War,” said McGill, describing his ancestor’s service to Union forces. “He was discharged in Mississippi and found his way to Fort Smith. I wonder what that journey must have been like for him.”
McGill’s own journey has also involved witnessing historical advances toward racial equality, including passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
“I could now go to the bowling alley; I could now go to restaurants,” McGill explained of the legislation’s everyday impact. “I could not wait to experience things we had seen from a distance.”
One key area where the injustices of segregation held people back? Access to resources.
“The brand-new books went to the other schools,” explained McGill. “Our books were used and tattered; they were missing pages. We knew that, but that didn’t stop education. That didn’t stop our thirst for knowledge.”
The lack of a level playing field could’ve easily been overwhelming for some students. But not at Lincoln High School. Remember that ‘Excellence’ motto?
“We knew the odds were stacked against us,” added McGill. “But we also knew that when you get on the other side of the equation, you’re going to find something great.”
That something great for McGill is a 40-plus year career of giving back through legislative service.
“A good friend introduced me to a young man interested in getting into politics,” recalled McGill. “That young man was named Bill Clinton. The rest is history.”
McGill served in Clinton’s cabinet following his election as governor and traveled the country during his presidential campaign. Those experiences led to opportunities the child who ran along the Arkansas River could’ve only imagined. Meeting Civil Rights trailblazers Nelson Mandela and Maya Angelou. Being elected to three terms in the Arkansas State Legislature. And that historic moment in 2019 when he was elected Fort Smith’s leader.
“On our city’s two-hundredth anniversary, they end up with an African-American mayor,” said McGill. “I know it was traumatic for many people to see me sit in this seat for the first time. I decided to go back to all the lessons I learned from Lincoln High School and to come in with a spirit of kindness, respect for everyone and just lead. I also encouraged our citizens to operate in a spirit of service, to make people feel better when they come into contact with you.”
Three years later, McGill sees that spirit shining among the city’s people.
A spirit that also fills the halls of Lincoln Childcare Center.
“I’ve taken my grandsons there,” said McGill. “I tell them, ‘My school was right there. The focus was on excellence.’”