Edmondson Home and Improvement Company v. Harold E. Weaver
Edmondson Home and Improvement Company v. Harold E. Weaver was a civil suit in the Crittenden County Chancery Court between 1941 and 1948. The Edmondson Home and Improvement Company initiated the suit to contest Harold Weaver’s acquisition of 588 town lots and hundreds of acres of farmland in and around the town of Edmondson (Crittenden County). The land belonging to the Edmondson Home and Improvement Company and other African-American citizens of Edmondson was conveyed to Weaver, a white man, by the State of Arkansas after the sheriff and tax collector of Crittenden County declared that the owners of the lands were delinquent for failure to pay property taxes. The leadership of the Edmondson Home and Improvement Company claimed that they were never informed of the tax and demanded the land be returned to its original owners. Throughout the 1940s, the company’s attorney fought for the case to be brought to trial, but the court dismissed the suit in 1948, and Weaver retained ownership of the last black-owned town in Crittenden County.
The circumstances of the case originate in the founding of the Edmondson Home and Improvement Company in 1902. The company was in the business of acquiring land in and around Edmondson and selling it exclusively to African Americans. Some of the company’s founding members had been forcibly exiled from Crittenden County by a white mob in 1888 to clear the county of its black officeholders. Some of the exiled people retained ownership of their property, and those lands became the first holdings of the Edmondson Home and Improvement Company. Edmondson flourished in the first decades of the twentieth century, thanks in large part to the rich cotton land that supported the town’s black-owned businesses. But during the Great Depression, the value of cotton plummeted and many businesses were forced to close.
However, the economic turmoil of the 1930s alone does not explain why the black people of Edmondson lost their land. The citizens of the town accused the Crittenden County sheriff and tax collector of falsifying tax records that showed a failure to pay a tax for a local drainage district. New Deal programs reinvigorated the cotton industry, and white planters used federal funds to purchase these lands out from under their black owners. In Edmondson, the delinquent property fell into the hands of Harold Weaver.
Weaver first acquired property in Edmondson in the early 1930s by sending an African-American agent to purchase a town lot from the Edmondson Home and Improvement Company. The agent then conveyed the title to Weaver, who set up a general store on his new lot. Later, a post office was attached to the store, and Weaver’s wife, Dorothy Weaver, was appointed postmaster of Edmondson.
Representing the Edmondson Home and Improvement Company in its first efforts against Weaver was attorney K. T. Sutton of Helena (Phillips County). Sutton was first introduced to the situation in Edmondson through his role as attorney for the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union (STFU), which had come to Edmondson in 1935 to mobilize Crittenden County’s poor black farmworkers in the fight against planter control. By 1941, Sutton and STFU co-founder J. R. Butler believed they had accumulated enough evidence to contest Weaver’s acquisition in the Crittenden County Court.
In response to Sutton’s initial complaint, Weaver’s attorneys issued multiple demands for Sutton to make his complaint “more definite and certain.” It was not until 1945 that the court finally required the defense to issue its response. Weaver denied each of Sutton’s allegations and motioned for the court to dismiss the case. The case stayed in court for another three years, during which time Ross Robley of Little Rock (Pulaski County) replaced Sutton as the company’s attorney.
In July 1948, Robley submitted a motion for trial, which was met with an order for the plaintiff to provide more evidence. Robley never received this order, however, and the court dismissed the case in September. However, Robley did not hear of the dismissal until December because the court sent the notice to the post office in Edmondson instead of to Robley’s office. In January 1949, Robley made a final plea for the court to bring the case to trial, but that plea was rejected.
The case received some national media exposure after an Edmondson sharecropper, Tee Davis, was sentenced to ten years in prison for defending his home from Weaver one night in 1943. The STFU and its legal arm, the Workers Defense League, used this incident to publicize the situation in Edmondson. Despite the national attention the Edmondson case received between 1941 and 1948, the people of Edmondson were left landless after the Crittenden County court upheld Weaver’s acquisition. Edmondson Home and Improvement Company v. Harold E. Weaver marks the end of an era in Crittenden County when African Americans found opportunity as landowners in the Arkansas Delta.
For additional information:
Jones, Krista Michelle. “‘It was awful, but it was politics’: Crittenden County and the Demise of African American Political Participation.” MA thesis, University of Arkansas, 2012.
Mitchell, H. L. Mean Things Happening in This Land: The Life and Times of H. L. Mitchell Co-Founder of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union. Montclair: Allenheld, Osmun & Co. Publishers, Inc., 1979.
Ownbey, Samuel. “‘The Once Peaceful Little Town’: Edmondson, Arkansas, and the Decline of African American Landownership.” MA thesis, University of Arkansas, 2020.
Ross, James D. The Rise and Fall of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union in Arkansas. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2018.
Samuel M. Ownbey
Last Updated: 02/17/2021