Act 115 of 1959 [Anti-NAACP Law]

In 1959, the Arkansas General Assembly passed Act 115 as one of sixteen bills designed to bypass federal desegregation orders stemming from the desegregation of Central High School. Act 115 outlawed state employment of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) members. Coupled with Act 10, a law designed to expose NAACP members on state payrolls by requiring state employees to list their political affiliations, Act 115 effectively punished the leaders of the desegregation effort in Little Rock (Pulaski County).

Arkansas attorney general Bruce Bennett proposed the bill as part of a package of legislation that would “throw consternation into the ranks” of the NAACP, a group Bennett considered to be subversive. He hoped this package would keep the NAACP from bringing further legal suits in the state. Act 115 passed easily and was signed by Governor Orval Faubus, who had become a committed segregationist during the Little Rock desegregation crisis.

Almost immediately after the act’s passage, the NAACP filed suit on behalf of B. T. Shelton, a Little Rock teacher whose contract was not renewed because of his membership in the NAACP. A three-judge federal district court heard the case in June 1959. The court declared that the act violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Association with a political organization alone, the court declared, could not be used to determine disloyalty or disqualification. The ruling against Act 115 set a legal precedent that would be used against similar laws passed in many Southern states.

For additional information:
Williamson-Lott, Joy Ann. “The Battle over Power, Control, and Academic Freedom at Southern Institutions of Higher Education, 1955–1965.” Journal of Southern History 74 (November 2013): 879–920.

Woods, Jeff. Black Struggle, Red Scare: Segregation and Anticommunism in the South, 1948–1968. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2004.

———. “‘Designed to Harass’: Act 10 in Arkansas.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 56 (Winter 1997): 443–461.

Jeff Woods
Arkansas Tech University


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