African-American Legislators (Nineteenth Century)

In Arkansas, between 1868 and 1893, at least eighty-seven African-American men were elected to and served in the Arkansas General Assembly. Reconstruction policies and amendments to the U.S. Constitution outlawed slavery, redefined citizenship to include freed slaves, and granted universal male suffrage regardless “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” In Arkansas, these changes led to the election of Black men to state and local offices. These legislators and other officeholders were primarily elected from areas with large Black populations––Arkansas’s plantation regions in the east and southwest as well as urban areas like Little Rock (Pulaski County), Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), and Helena (Phillips County).

Historians are still piecing together the lives of these men; nevertheless, research shows that the elected men were a diverse group. Many had been free, living in the North before the Civil War, while others were former slaves in Arkansas or nearby states. Leaders in their communities, most appear to have received an education and were capable, literate, and ambitious men. They came to prominence as educators and ministers, but their ranks also held former Union soldiers, newspaper editors, merchants, farmers, lawyers, and at least one doctor.

Early in Reconstruction, a number of important leaders emerged. Most prominent among the eight Black delegates to the 1868 Arkansas Constitutional Convention were William H. Grey, James T. White, and James W. Mason. All three were educated and later served in the General Assembly. Of the three, only Mason was born in Arkansas. The son of Arkansas’s largest planter and an enslaved woman named Cynthia, Mason received an education at Oberlin College in Ohio and in Paris, France. In 1867, at Sunnyside in Chicot County, he became the first known Black postmaster in the country. Grey and White, born free in Washington DC and Indiana, respectively, came to Helena in 1865. Grey was a merchant and minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and later became the first Grand Master of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge (Colored) of Free and Accepted Masons of Arkansas. White, a Baptist minister, headed the church’s mission work among the freedmen in Helena and later edited newspapers like the Arkansas Review. During the 1868 convention, these three, along with the other Black delegates, defended the right of Black men to vote, a key provision for readmission to the Union.

During the initial period of Reconstruction from 1868 to 1874, Arkansans elected thirty-five Black men to forty-five positions in the General Assembly. In 1873, the number of Black men in the legislature peaked at twenty-one—seventeen in the House and four in the Senate. The men took an active role within the Republican Party supporting civil rights, public education, economic development, and efforts to maintain law and order—especially combating intimidation of African Americans by the Ku Klux Klan.

In the post-Reconstruction years, in which Democrats “redeemed” or regained political power, Black men continued to serve in the General Assembly, albeit in smaller numbers. While there were efforts to intimidate Black voters, Arkansas remained relatively moderate. Democratic “redeemer” Governor Augustus H. Garland set the tone when he was elected in 1874, throwing his support behind the state’s 1873 Civil Rights Act, access to public schools, and the right to vote. Garland also encouraged the “fusion principle” in Black-majority Delta counties. Fusion essentially shared power between Republicans and Democrats by dividing the political tickets between the parties. The arrangements also had the effect of quelling potential political violence.

With few exceptions, nineteenth-century Black legislators aligned with the Republican Party. The year 1879 appears to be the first year that any Black legislators were willing to break with the Republicans. Four had been elected on the Greenback ticket and one as a Democrat. The early 1880s also saw a few Greenbackers elected, but fusion and Republican alliances with Greenbackers and members of the Agricultural Wheel seem to have kept Black voters and candidates within the Republican fold. The final exception in the nineteenth century is Benjamin F. Adair, who served in the 1891 General Assembly as a Democrat.

The passage of the 1891 Election Law by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly was the first of a series of laws that disenfranchised Black voters. Black Republicans like Senator George W. Bell and Representative John Gray Lucas voiced their objections to the 1891 bill, but the party was unable to defeat the measure. The 1891 law, under the guise of election reform, removed local control of elections and reforms to ballot printing intimidated illiterate voters. A law requiring a poll tax receipt in order to vote came in 1893. These measures suppressed Black voter turnout and effectively ended political participation and representation for over a quarter of the state’s population.

Arkansas Constitutional Convention of 1868

Delegate Lifespan From Other Service
William H. Grey 1829–1888 Helena See House, Senate
Monroe E. Hawkins ca. 1832–after 1880 Lewisville See House
Thomas P. Johnson ca. 1828–1906 Little Rock
James W. Mason 1842–1874 Sunnyside, Chicot County See Senate
William Murphy ca. 1810–1887 Pine Bluff See House
W. Henry Rector ca. 1841–1892 Little Rock
Richard Samuels 1844–1878 Washington See House
James T. White ca. 1840–1892 Helena See House, Senate

 

Arkansas State Senate

Legislator Lifespan Party From Service/Other Service
George Walthal Bell ca. 1855–1927 Republican Desha County 1891, 1893
Richard A. Dawson 1848–1896 Republican Jefferson County 1873, 1874–Extra; See House
William H. Grey 1829–1888 Republican Phillips County 1874–1875; See Convention, House
Samuel H. Holland ca. 1844–1886 Republican Chicot County 1873, 1874–Extra
William H. Logan 1850/1855–after 1900 Republican Chicot County 1887, 1889
James Worthington Mason 1842–1874 Republican Chicot County 1868–1869, 1871; See Convention
Anthony L. Stanford 1830–1883 Republican, Greenback (1879) Phillips County 1877, 1879
James T. White ca. 1840–1892 Republican Phillips County 1871, 1873; See Convention, House
Ruben B. White 1845/1848–1886 Republican Pulaski County 1873, 1874–Extra
John Willis Williams 1835–after 1873 Republican Phillips County 1874–1875; See House

 

Arkansas House of Representatives

Legislator Lifespan Party From Service/Other Service
Benjamin F. Adair 1853–1902 Democrat Pulaski County 1891
James M. Alexander Sr. ca. 1815–1871 Republican Phillips County 1871
Isaac George Bailey 1846–1914 Republican Desha County 1885
Conway Barbour 1818–1876 Republican Lafayette County 1871
Austin Barrow 1838–after 1880 Republican Phillips County 1871
Peter H. Booth ca. 1851–1927 Republican Jefferson County 1893
Levi B. Boston ca. 1846–after 1888 Republican Jefferson County 1874–1875
Joseph H. Bradford ca. 1854–after 1885 Republican Mississippi County 1885
Joseph B. Brooks ca. 1840–after 1900 Republican Lafayette County 1885
Charles F. Brown 1840–after 1873 Republican St. Francis County 1873
Cornelius “Neal” Brown 1845–after 1873 Republican Pulaski County 1873
Crockett Brown 1856–after 1900) Republican Lee County 1877
Hal B. Burton 1851/1854–after 1910 Republican Jefferson County 1887
John H. Carr 1849–after 1900 Republican Phillips County 1889, 1891, 1893
Berry Coleman 1845–after 1910 Republican Phillips County 1877, 1874–1875
William L. Copeland ca. 1846–1885 Republican Crittenden County 1873, 1874–1875
Lawrence C. Crute ca. 1844–1930 Republican Chicot County 1873
Richard A. Dawson 1848–1896 Greenback Jefferson County 1879; See Senate
Sebron W. Dawson 1857–1927 Republican Jefferson County 1889, 1891
Jacob N. Donohoo 1854–1917 Republican Phillips County 1877, 1887, 1889, 1891
Anderson Ebberson 1843–1916 Republican Jefferson County 1877, 1881
Nathan E. Edwards 1855–1908 Republican Chicot County 1893
Edward Allen Fulton 1833–1906 Republican Drew County 1871
William “Willis” Hines Furbush 1839–1902 Republican, 1873; Democrat, 1879 Phillips County, 1873; Lee County, 1879 1873, 1879
Isaac Gillam 1840–1904 Greenback Pulaski County 1879
Ed Glover 1851–after 1900 Republican Jefferson County 1885
William “Willis” E. Gray  1848–after 1900 Republican Pulaski County 1881
William H. Grey 1829–1888 Republican Phillips County 1868–1869; See Convention, Senate
Tony/Toney Grissom 1841/1850–after 1885 Republican Phillips County 1873, 1874–1875
Jeff Haskins 1820–1884 Republican St. Francis County 1871
Ferdinand “Ferd” Havis 1846–1918 Republican Jefferson County 1873
Monroe E. Hawkins ca. 1832–after 1880 Republican Lafayette County 1868–1869, 1873, 1874; See Convention
Ned Hill ca. 1845–after 1875 Republican Jefferson County 1874–1875
Daniel Hunt 1828/1834–1887 Republican Hempstead County 1868–1869
William B. Jacko 1857–after 1922 Republican Jefferson County 1885, 1887
Ed Jefferson 1861–after 1900 Republican Jefferson County 1887, 1889
Adam R. Johnson 1825/1830–after 1873 Republican Crittenden County 1871, 1873
Henry “Hal” Augustus Johnson 1855–191? Republican Chicot County 1891
John H. Johnson 1840–1885 Republican Woodruff County 1873
Green Hill Jones 1842–1924 Republican Chicot County 1885, 1889
Thomas R. Kersh 1844/1847–1916 Republican Lincoln County 1885, 1887
Daniel W. Lewis 1851–1932 Republican Crittenden County 1883
George W. Lowe 1847–1920 Union Labor/Republican Monroe County 1889, 1891
John Gray Lucas 1864–1944 Republican Jefferson County 1891
William A. Marshall 1843–after 1873 Republican Hempstead County 1873
L. J. Maxwell 1851–after 1894 Republican Jefferson County 1874–1875
Americus Mayo 1820/1834–1891 Republican Monroe County 1871
Charles Howard McKay 1858– after 1913 Republican Jefferson County 1893
Abraham H. Miller ca. 1851–1913 Republican Phillips County 1874–1875
William Murphy ca. 1810–1887 Republican Jefferson County 1873, 1877; See Convention
Marshall M. Murray 1856–1916 Republican Lafayette County 1883
Hugh L. Newsome 1849–ca. 1905 Republican Chicot County 1887
Sandy Shepard Odum 1852/1858–193? Republican Crittenden County 1887
William C. Payne ca. 1841–1898 Greenback/Republican(?) Jefferson County 1879, 1881
Burns Polk 1820–after 1875 Republican Lee County 1874–1875
Carl R. Polk 1841–1926 Republican Jefferson County 1871, 1881
Patrick T. Price 1845/1847–1890 Republican Lee County 1877
Henry H. Robinson 1847–after 1879 Republican Phillips County 1873
James A. Robinson ca. 1836–after 1875 Republican Desha County 1871, 1874–1875
John C. Rollins 1832/1835–ca. 1879 Republican Ashley County 1873
Anderson Louis Rush 1838–1879 Republican Pulaski County 1868–1869
Granville Ryles 1831–1909 Greenback/Republican Pulaski County 1883
Richard R. Samuels ca. 1844–1878 Republican Hempstead County 1868–1869; See Convention
Francis “Frank” H. Sawyer 1831/1835–after 1880 Republican Lincoln County 1877
Samuel H. Scott ca. 1843–after 1902 Republican Jefferson County 1885
Archie/Archer Shepperson 1850–1901 Republican Hempstead County 1873
Rusty Sherrill 1832/1835–after 1883 Republican Jefferson County 1883
George H. W. Stewart 1839–after 1900 Republican Phillips County 1873
Green W. Thompson 1847–1902 Republican Pulaski County 1889
George E. Trower 1855–after 1910 Republican Faulkner County 1887
Blackstone Waterhouse 1840/1844–after 1914 Republican Jefferson County 1883
George W. Watson 1861–after 1910 Republican Crittenden County 1891
John W. Webb 1824–after 1900 Republican Chicot County 1871
Reuben C. Weddington 1866–after 1910 Republican Desha County 1891
Francis “Frank” W. White 1855–after 1930 Greenback/Republican Pulaski County 1883
James T. White ca. 1840–1892 Republican Phillips County 1868–1869; See Convention, Senate
Henry W./N. Williams 1844/1850–after 1891 Republican Lincoln County 1889, 1891
John Willis Williams 1835–after 1873 Republican Phillips County 1873; See Senate
James Wofford 1843/1846–after 1884 Republican Crittenden County 1877
Sam L. Woolfork 1858–1934 Republican Jefferson County 1889, 1891
William H. Young ca. 1844–after 1880 Republican Jefferson County 1871, 1883

 

For additional information:
Branham, Chris W. “‘The Africans Have Taken Arkansas:’ Political Activities of African Americans in the Reconstruction Legislature.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 73 (Autumn 2014): 233–267.

Gatewood, Willard B., Jr. “Negro Legislators in Arkansas, 1891: A Document.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 31 (Autumn 1972): 220–233.

Graves, John William. Town and Country: Race Relations in an Urban–Rural Context, Arkansas, 1865–1905. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1990.

Moneyhon, Carl H. “Black Politics in Arkansas during the Gilded Age, 1876–1900.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly (Autumn 1985): 222–245.

Wintory, Blake. “African–American Legislators in the Arkansas General Assembly, 1868–1893: Another Look.” In A Confused and Confusing Affair: Arkansas and Reconstruction, edited by Mark Christ, 86–145. Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2018.

Wintory, Blake J. “African-American Legislators in the Arkansas General Assembly, 1868–1893.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 65 (Winter 2006): 385–434.

Blake Wintory
Thompson’s Station, Tennessee

Last Updated: 06/16/2021