Clay Fulks (1880–1964)

Clay Fulks was a notable figure in Arkansas’s limited history of radical leftism. He was a repeat candidate for governor on the Arkansas Socialist Party ticket and published articles in such nationally important periodicals as the American Mercury.

Clay Fulks was born on January 28, 1880, in Pearson (Cleburne County) to Whitman Whifield Fulks and Martha Ellen Thompson Fulks. He had five brothers and four sisters. He graduated from Heber Springs High School in 1903. From 1909 to 1915, he wrote articles for newspapers in White County, where he also served as a public school teacher, and, in 1916, edited a column titled “Department of Economics” in the Searcy Daily News; he also contributed to the Milwaukee Leader from 1920 to 1923. These writings exemplify a growing affiliation with the religious skepticism, economic leftism, and radical labor doctrine espoused by political figures such as Eugene V. Debs. Between 1911 and 1921, Fulks pursued a haphazard education, studying law and then journalism via the American Extension University in Los Angeles, California, and New York. Fulks married his second wife, Mabel Grace Coe of Beebe (White County), at this time, and their son James was born around 1923. By 1927, the couple had settled in Mena (Polk County) and were both heavily involved in the radical labor movement centered at the infamous Commonwealth College, a cooperative farming and educational community founded on socialist ideals.

Fulks was a fervent critic of Arkansas’s socio-political and economic establishment. In 1912, he ran as a Democrat for the position of state representative from White County. He was affiliated with the Arkansas Socialist Party, serving as a delegate to the 1917 socialist convention opposed to World War I. He ran as the party’s gubernatorial candidate in 1918 and 1932, with his second bid organized in and around the Commonwealth College community. In January 1927, he appeared before the Arkansas state legislature as a witness opposing the adoption of a law banning the teaching of evolution in public schools, echoing the efforts of H. L. Mencken in Dayton, Tennessee, two years earlier. Fulks wrote numerous articles and tracts critiquing Southern culture, Christianity, and American foreign policy, several of which were published in periodicals such as the American Mercury, edited by Mencken, and E. Haldeman-Julius’s “Little Blue Books” series. He was also a correspondent of famous author Upton Sinclair and worked with Arkansas author Bernie Babcock on her Works Progress Administration (WPA) writers’ project. With the dissolution of Commonwealth College in 1940 for its radical teachings, Fulks became less active in socialist politics, although he continued to write. Fulks’s association with socialism and flamboyant writings made him the subject of scrutiny from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from 1941 to 1952; his employers and associates were questioned regarding his political beliefs, but because Fulks had never participated in any overt anti-government activities, no further action was taken.

Fulks relocated to California in 1942, settling in Burbank in April 1943, where he worked for the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. Fulks never settled into a permanent vocation, taking odd jobs merely to support his intellectual pursuits. He and his wife relocated several times in the following years, living in Portland, Oregon (circa 1947–October 1949), where he was active in the Henry A. Wallace campaign and Progressive Party politics; San Antonio, Texas (circa November 1949–March 1950); and in Arkansas (circa April 1950) in Ink (Polk County). In 1951, Fulks delivered the eulogy at E. Haldeman-Julius’s funeral.

Fulks and his wife settled in Neosho, Missouri, in 1950, where the couple remained until Fulks’s death in April 1964. He was predeceased by his son, who died as a prisoner of war during World War II.

For additional information:
Clay Fulks Papers. Special Collections. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Commonwealth College Fortnightly. Special Collections. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas. (accessed February 1, 2022).

Koch, Raymond, and Charlotte Koch. Educational Commune: The Story of Commonwealth College. New York: Shocken Books, 1972.

Phillip Stephens
Fayetteville, Arkansas


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