Neill Bohlinger (1884–1969)
Neill Bohlinger was an Arkansas attorney, politician, and judge who served multiple terms in the Arkansas General Assembly, was chief general counsel for the Arkansas Highway Commission, and was later appointed to fill a vacancy on the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Antoine Neill Bohlinger was born on July 3, 1884, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Antoine Bohlinger and Bessie Peay Bohlinger. His father was an insurance agent, and his mother was a member of the prominent Peay family of Arkansas. Her father was Colonel Gordon Neill Peay, a Confederate officer and mayor of Little Rock; one of her brothers-in-law was W. B. Worthen, founder of Worthen Bank, and her brother Gordon Peay became president of Worthen Bank after W. B. Worthen’s death.
Bohlinger attended Little Rock public schools and then the Manual Training School of Washington University at St. Louis, Missouri, graduating in 1904. In December 1907, he married Leslie May Hall, daughter of Judge and Mrs. Lewis Christian Hall, of Dardanelle (Yell County); they had three children. After reading (studying) the law, he was admitted to the Arkansas bar in 1909 and began practicing, originally in Dardanelle.
Bohlinger served in the Arkansas House of Representatives in the 1919, 1923, 1925, and 1933 sessions of the Arkansas General Assembly. He was first elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives as a representative for Yell County in 1919. At the conclusion of his first session, Bohlinger ran for attorney general in 1920 but was defeated by state senator J. S. Utley.
In 1922, Bohlinger was elected to represent Pulaski County in the Arkansas House of Representatives, having moved back to central Arkansas. Bohlinger unsuccessfully ran for Speaker of the House for the 1923 session, with Representative Howard Reed of Cleburne County winning the speakership.
The 1922 election saw a revived Ku Klux Klan attempting to influence many state and local elections by endorsing a slate of candidates for public office, including Bohlinger, who was running to represent Pulaski County in the Arkansas House. Most of the Klan-endorsed candidates, including Bohlinger, won their elections.
During the 1923 session, Bohlinger sponsored House Concurrent Resolution 4, which changed the design of the Arkansas state flag. In 1913, the legislature had adopted the flag designed by Willie Hocker of Wabbaseka (Jefferson County) as the official state flag. Her original design consisted of a red field with a white diamond in its center. The white diamond was bordered with a blue band containing twenty-five stars. In the middle of the white diamond was the word “Arkansas” with two blue stars beneath it and one above it. These three stars represented the three nations that occupied Arkansas before statehood—France, Spain, and the United States. House Concurrent Resolution 4, which was passed by the legislature, added a fourth star to the center of the flag above the word “Arkansas,” symbolizing Arkansas’s time as part of the Confederate States of America.
During a special session of the legislature the following year, Bohlinger sponsored House Concurrent Resolution 11 placing the three stars for France, Spain, and the United States under the word “Arkansas” and leaving the star for the Confederacy above it. The legislature passed House Concurrent Resolution 11, giving the Arkansas state flag the design that it has kept to the present.
Bohlinger represented Pulaski County again in 1925 and Yell County in 1933 in the Arkansas House. He ran for reelection in Yell County in 1934 but was defeated. At that time, Yell County had two representatives in the Arkansas House. In the Democratic primary, Bohlinger received 1,754 votes, while E. H. Cheyne received 2,652 votes and J. A. Christian received 2,489 votes, with Cheyne and Christian winning the nomination to Yell County’s two seats in the Arkansas House. Bohlinger filed suit in court challenging Christian’s eligibility to run in the election but was unsuccessful.
Bohlinger returned to his law practice and began working intermittently as an attorney for the Arkansas Highway Commission in 1934; he became the department’s chief general counsel in 1957. From 1941 to 1969, Bohlinger also served as parliamentarian for the Arkansas House.
In September 1961, Bohlinger left the Highway Department when Governor Orval Faubus appointed him to the Arkansas Supreme Court to finish out the term of Justice J. Seaborn Holt, who had retired from the court. Bohlinger left the Arkansas Supreme Court in December 1962 at the end of Holt’s term.
Bohlinger had a deep and lifelong interest in the Civil War. Members of his family served in the Confederate army, and when he was a child, Confederate veterans would often visit his family’s home and reminisce about the war. A noted public speaker, Bohlinger frequently spoke to civic groups and other organizations about the Civil War. He was active in the Sons of the Confederate Veterans and rose to the position of national commander. He was chairman of the Arkansas Vicksburg Memorial Commission, Pea Ridge National Park Commission, and State Gettysburg Memorial Commission. As chairman of the Pea Ridge National Park Commission, Bohlinger was instrumental in having the battlefield at Pea Ridge (Benton County) designated as a national park. The State Gettysburg Memorial Commission was responsible for erecting a memorial to the Third Arkansas Infantry Regiment of the Confederate States Army at Gettysburg National Military Park. Bohlinger spoke at the dedication of the monument in June 1966.
Bohlinger died on June 3, 1969, in Little Rock.
For additional information:
Alexander, Charles C. “The Ku Klux Klan in Arkansas 1922–1924.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 22 (Autumn 1963): 195–214.
———. “White-Robed Reformers: The Ku Klux Klan Comes to Arkansas 1921–1922.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 22 (Spring 1963): 8–23.
Barnes, Kenneth C. The Ku Klux Klan in 1920s Arkansas: How Protestant White Nationalism Came to Rule a State. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2021.
Bohlinger v. Christian, 189 Ark. 839, 75 S.W.2d 230 (1934).
Brown, Walter. “Arkansas’ Flag Is Fifty Years Old.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 22 (Spring 1963): 3–7.
“Neill Bohlinger Appointed to Supreme Court.” Arkansas Highways, September 1961, p. 2. Online at https://www.ardot.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Vol.-9-September-1961-No.-9.pdf (accessed May 19, 2023).
“Obituaries.” Arkansas Highways, June–July–August 1969, p. 19. Online at https://www.ardot.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Vol.-15-June-July-August-1969-No.-5.pdf (accessed May 19, 2023).
Little Rock, Arkansas
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