Walter Lee Brown (1924–2014)
A Texan who helped shape the discipline of Arkansas history, Walter Lee Brown oversaw the daily operations of the Arkansas Historical Association (AHA) for thirty-five years and edited its journal, the Arkansas Historical Quarterly, for almost as long.
Walter L. Brown was born in Gatesville, Texas, in 1924, to Frank J. Brown and Alice Berry Brown. Brown served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He earned a BA in history at Texas A&M University (1949) and an MA (1950) and PhD (1955) from the University of Texas. His dissertation was only the first installment in a lifetime of work on the Arkansas politician and polymath Albert Pike.
In 1954, Brown joined the history department at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), where he served as instructor (1954–57), assistant professor (1957–61), associate professor (1961–67), and full professor (1967–90). He taught Arkansas history, the Old and New South, the Age of Jackson, and the U.S. history survey. Students and colleagues found him memorable in many ways. For John W. Graves, he was “the perfect mentor for aspiring young scholars.” Brown reached a still-younger audience through his textbook, Our Arkansas, which was published in three editions (1958, 1963, and 1969). Modern readers might find Our Arkansas a bit dated in its language and perspectives, but it had few rivals in its day as a resource for teaching state history.
Shortly after moving to Fayetteville, Brown became secretary-treasurer of the Arkansas Historical Association, still in its adolescence. Over the following decades, the AHA gained a more solid footing in terms of membership and funding. Brown, assisted for many years by Denyse Killgore, saw that the Arkansas Historical Quarterly appeared regularly and that the AHA’s conferences were held annually.
In 1959, Brown succeeded Ted Worley as the journal’s editor. Earlier, the journal had featured an eclectic mix of serious scholarship, reminiscence, and folklore. Under Brown, it made the transition to being a full-time scholarly journal, keeping abreast of changing perspectives and methods in the discipline.
Beginning in the 1960s, the Quarterly published some of the earliest work on Arkansas’s African-American, civil rights, and working-class history. An article by Numan Bartley (“Looking Back at Little Rock”), which did much to anticipate later study of the desegregation crisis of 1957–58, was published in summer 1966, while Orval Faubus was still governor (and in a period when Brown had to appear before the legislature periodically to cadge a small subsidy for the Quarterly). There followed John Graves’s pioneering studies of Jim Crow and disfranchisement in Arkansas. Even before becoming editor, Brown had published a plea that Civil War historians take the Battle of Pea Ridge more seriously, and, during his tenure, the Quarterly did much to promote study of the war in the Trans-Mississippi. It featured Leo Huff’s path-breaking treatment of guerrilla conflict, for example, and a string of articles by Edwin Bearss on assorted battles and campaigns. More generally, many of the state’s most prominent scholars published some of their earliest, or finest, work on Arkansas history in Brown’s Quarterly.
Brown’s correspondence betrayed occasional impatience with his duties as secretary-treasurer and editor, but he held on to both positions until his retirement in 1990. Seven years later, he published A Life of Albert Pike with the University of Arkansas Press—an exhaustive biography and a rich compendium of Arkansas’s antebellum history. The AHA sponsors an awards program for Arkansas county and local historical journals that is named for Brown.
Brown died in Fayetteville on January 17, 2014. He was survived by his wife of sixty-three years, Jane Richart Brown, and their two sons.
For additional information:
Graves, John W. “Walter Lee Brown.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 73 (Summer 2014): 135–137.
Park, Hugh. “Twenty-five Years as Printer of the Quarterly.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 26 (Summer 1967): 185–193.
Richter, Wendy. “Celebrating Fifty Years of the Arkansas Historical Association.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 55 (Summer 1996): 167–172.
Patrick G. Williams
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
Last Updated: 12/07/2020