Frederick Kramer Darragh Jr. was a Little Rock (Pulaski County) businessman known for his philanthropic support of Arkansas’s social justice organizations, libraries, and liberal political causes, along with his efforts to educate Arkansans about foreign countries and cultures.
Fred Darragh was born on November 13, 1916, in Little Rock, the oldest of three children born to Frederick Kramer Darragh Sr., a wholesale grain merchant, and Valerie S. Darragh. He was educated at Sewanee Military Academy at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, and at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business, where he was a 1938 graduate.
During World War II, Darragh flew the “hump,” as the Allied air transport of materials from India to China was termed. These supply efforts required dangerous flights over the Himalayan Mountains, and Darragh received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service.
Flying, world travel, and educating himself and others about other cultures remained major interests for Darragh throughout his life. He visited over 150 countries and flew solo around the world in 1962, an undertaking that took sixty-eight days in an era when such world circuits were uncommon. He was named Pilot of the Year in 1962 in recognition of that event. Darragh was inducted into the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame in 1999.
Darragh returned to the family agribusiness following the war. Influenced greatly by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, to which he had been exposed while in India, Darragh used his money to assist political causes and reform efforts in Arkansas that worked for social justice, education, and peaceful world relations. Three of the areas where he worked to bring improvement were in providing equal opportunities for minorities, improving the state’s public libraries, and offering defense and support for intellectual freedom and civil liberties within the state.
Darragh was the first white businessman to join the Urban League in 1947, later serving on its board of directors, and was one of the few business leaders to support openly the desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957. The Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was organized in Darragh’s office in 1969, and he was the primary financial supporter of the organization for over thirty years.
Public libraries were dear to Darragh’s heart. An extensive reader himself, he believed the public library to be an institution that could help people continue their education from childhood years through retirement. In an education-poor state like Arkansas, such an opportunity for continued education was critical in Darragh’s view. He also believed the public library shared his commitment to intellectual freedom and accessibility to books and information for all people, regardless of race, economic status, or age.
At the local level, Darragh served as a trustee and benefactor for Little Rock’s public library system. The Central Arkansas Library System’s Darragh Center for Intellectual Freedom and an annual lecture series at the library honor Darragh’s decades of support. He also served on the board of the Arkansas State Library. During Arkansas’s year of celebration marking the sesquicentennial of statehood, Darragh provided grants to every county for the purchase of Arkansas history and literature books by the public library in every county seat community.
For his many years of commitment to their causes, Darragh was honored through the years with awards from the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Arkansas Library Association, and the American Library Association. In 1999, he received the David Pryor Award for contributions to society by a person in retirement.
Darragh never married. He died on March 20, 2003, at the age of eighty-six. His ashes are interred at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church’s Columbarium in Little Rock.
For additional information:
Brazzel, Kyle. “Fred Kramer Darragh.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. October 31, 1999, 1D.
Dumas, Ernest. “Fred Darragh’s Legacy.” Arkansas Times. March 28, 2003, p. 27.
Fred K. Darragh Jr. Papers. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Razer, Bob. “Fred Darragh, 1916–2003: More Than A ‘Friend’ To Libraries.” Arkansas Libraries 60 (June 2003): 34–37.
Simmers, Sarah. “Fred K. Darragh, Jr.: A Liberal for All Seasons.” MA thesis, University of Arkansas, 2008.
———. “In the South, but Not of the South: Fred K. Darragh, Jr.” Pulaski County Historical Review 57 (Winter 2009): 124–135.
Bill Clinton State Government Project
Central Arkansas Library System