Arkansas League of the South
The League of the South was founded in 1994 with the announced intention of explaining and celebrating the South’s distinctive culture, one the league sees as very different from that of the North. The group’s first meeting in Alabama included about forty members, most of whom were academics, but after its founding it quickly sought to expand and claimed to have branches in sixteen states, extending its reach beyond the old Confederacy. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the organization as a hate group due to its promotion of neo-Confederate and Christian nationalist ideologies.
The organization’s original name was the Southern League, but a threatened legal challenge by a minor league baseball league forced them to change it to the League of the South. In the beginning, the group’s membership, and especially its leadership, was composed of academics, a fact that offered them a sheen of intellectual legitimacy. Its foundational text, Cracker Culture, by conservative history professor Grady McWhiney, asserts that the South was initially populated by immigrants from the Celtic areas of England, giving it a distinctive culture. Those professed roots have been central to the group’s academic pretensions. In fact, McWhiney was the academic mentor of the initial head of the organization, history professor Michael Hill, a one-time professor at Stillman College, a historically Black college located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he taught British history with a focus on Celtic history. Hill left Stillman in 1998.
Since its beginnings, the league has reportedly grown, in the words of Hill, “like kudzu.” From the forty members at its initial meeting, it claimed 4,000 just four years later. Its members were predominantly white southerners who appreciated its academic bonafides while taking comfort in the group’s early avowals that it was not racist. But those claims notwithstanding, the league has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a neo-Confederate hate group, a designation first applied in 2000, by which time the League of the South claimed that its membership had grown to around 9,000.
As the organization grew, its mission moved away from its initial focus on defending the distinctive culture of the region. Instead, as announced on its website, it turned to advocating for “the secession and subsequent independence of the southern states from this forced union and the formation of a southern republic.” The website also encourages the members of the league to “personally secede from the corrupt and corrupting influence of post-Christian culture in America” by home-schooling children and creating “parallel institutions to which people can attach their loyalties.”
Arkansas is one of the sixteen states in which the League of the South claims to have chapters. The state’s branch is reported to have been headed most recently by Tim Knowles. Under Knowles, the Arkansas chapter sought to establish an increasingly greater presence in the community. That presence has been marked by activities like the state branch’s sponsorship of a 2019 event protesting the 1957 desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County). In the group’s blog post accompanying the protest, it was announced that the chapter wanted to see the state “return race relations to [those of] the Jim Crow South.”
Beyond the Little Rock protest, the group’s activities have also included a number of organized Confederate flag displays on the public sidewalks of assorted Arkansas towns. However, while Arkansas has long been included in the list of states with affiliations with the league, its formal organizational structure as well as the extent of the group’s reach and influence are subject to debate. While some claim an Arkansas tie to the organization that goes back almost to the beginning, others claim that the first state conference of the Arkansas Chapter of the League of the South was held in September 2016 in Conway (Faulkner County), and that was itself an offshoot of the launching in 2014 of a state chapter made up largely of younger members.
Such discrepancies reflect a lack of either a concentrated focus or a plan for achieving the organization’s goals, whether they be the more academic elements central to the organization’s original founding or the more recent manifestation of white nationalism that has landed the parent organization on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list as a neo-Confederate hate group.
Following the parent organization’s lead, the Arkansas chapter has also become more involved in electoral politics since its founding. This approach has been illustrated through the efforts of Loy Mauch, a former head of the Sons of Confederate Veterans post in Hot Springs (Garland County) who called the Confederate flag “a symbol of Jesus Christ”; he was elected in 2010 to the Arkansas House of Representatives (where he served one term) as a Republican. Reports indicate that Mauch was a member of the league. However, following his election, Mauch sought to minimize his association with the organization, downplaying the fact that the group listed him as the chairman of its western Arkansas chapter as late as 2005. He admitted that he was a dues-paying member but said he was too busy to be actively involved and did not attend meetings. The position of chairman was, he maintained, “just a title.” He also maintained that, the organization’s website notwithstanding, the league had no interest in secession. Rather, Mauch asserted that the league just wanted constitutional government—something he said the country did not have under Abraham Lincoln. In fact, in 2004, angered by city’s unwillingness to remove a statue of Lincoln on display in the Hot Springs Convention Center, the Mauch-led Sons of the Confederate Veterans hosted a conference, “Seminar on Abraham Lincoln—Truth vs. Myth.” The keynote address was titled, “Homage to John Wilkes Booth.”
In some respects, the group’s identity is mired in uncertainty. On one hand, there are periodic public events. Then there is the professed desire to become more involved in politics—although Mauch’s efforts to try and distance himself from the league raises renewed questions about how active it is politically. Meanwhile, syndicated columnist Charley Reese, whose work regularly appeared in the Baxter Bulletin in the early years of the twenty-first century, proudly claimed membership in the group while offering a defense of it based on the academic grounds that were central to the league’s ostensible origins.
Ultimately, the somewhat muddled nature of Arkansas’s ties to the League of the South appears to be another example of both the league’s ambiguous identity and the ongoing struggle of the state to come to terms with the racist elements of its past.
For additional information:
Holt, Jared. “League of the South’s Arkansas Chairman: Tim Knowles.” Right Wing Watch, April 26, 2019. https://www.rightwingwatch.org/post/league-of-the-souths-arkansas-chairman-tim-knowles/ (accessed January 13, 2022).
Kauffman, Jacob. “Arkansas Looks Again at Confederacy: Secessionist League of the South Wants In.” KUAR Public Radio, September 24, 2015. https://www.ualrpublicradio.org/post/arkansas-looks-again-confederacy-secessionist-league-south-wants (accessed January 13, 2022).
Koon, David. “The South Shall Rise Again.” Arkansas Times, November 11, 2010. Online at https://arktimes.com/news/arkansas-reporter/2010/11/11/the-south-shall-rise-again (accessed January 13, 2022).
“League of the South.” Southern Poverty Law Center. https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/league-south (accessed January 13, 2022).
Reese, Charley. “For What It’s Worth, This Is Where I Come From.” Baxter Bulletin (Mountain Home, Arkansas), January 3, 2000.
William H. Pruden III
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