Civil Rights and Social Change

Entry Category: Civil Rights and Social Change

Williams, Claude Clossey

Claude Clossey Williams was a Presbyterian minister and human rights activist who was long involved in the civil rights movement. In addition, he was an active labor organizer and served as national vice president of the American Federation of Teachers. Claude Clossey Williams was born on June 16, 1895, in Weakley County, Tennessee, to Jess Williams and Minnie Bell Galey Williams. His parents were tenant farmers and sharecroppers who were members of the fundamentalist Cumberland Presbyterian Church. In 1910, he left his family and moved in with cousins, working on their farm. During the winters, he worked as a railroad laborer, carpentry assistant, and painter. He also heaved coal for Mississippi River steamboats. In 1916, with the United States on …

Williams, John (Lynching of)

On July 4, 1912, an African-American man named John Williams was lynched near Plumerville (Conway County) for allegedly murdering a deputy sheriff who was trying to arrest him. Although the Arkansas Gazette calls the deputy sheriff Paul Leisner, most other sources say he was Paul Nisler. Nisler, whose full name was likely Herbert Paul Nisler, was twenty-one years old at the time of his death. He had been in Conway County since at least 1900, when he was living in Plumerville with his parents, Sherman and Nannie Nisler. In 1910, he was still living with his parents (his father this time listed as Andrew S. Nisler) and working on a farm in Howard Township. He was described by newspapers as …

Williams, Leonard Lee (Killing of)

Leonard Lee Williams, a nineteen-year-old African-American man, was killed on Sunday, August 17, 1969, at the Wagon Wheel Drive-In in Benton (Saline County) in an incident sparked by racial strife in the city. The following day, a group of black citizens marched to city hall to demand justice. Mounting racial tensions were eventually eased through an emergency meeting of the city’s newly formed biracial committee. A grand jury handed down indictments to a number of individuals on various charges for their roles in the killing of Williams and the ensuing violence. According to a report in the Northwest Arkansas Times, published on August 18, 1969, Williams and a “girl companion” went for a late-night meal at the Wagon Wheel Drive-In …

Williams, Samuel Woodrow

Samuel Woodrow Williams was an African-American Baptist minister, college professor, and civil rights activist who had a major impact on race relations in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, from the mid-to-late 1950s until his sudden death in October 1970. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2009. Samuel Woodrow Williams was born on February 20, 1912, in Sparkman (Dallas County), the oldest of the eight children of Arthur Williams and Annie Willie Butler Williams. As a child, he enjoyed hunting, fishing, and playing baseball and basketball, but nothing gave him as much pleasure as reading; over his lifetime, he amassed a collection of more than 1,000 volumes. Lessons about racism came early for Williams. Before he …

Williams, Sue Cowan

Sue Cowan Williams represented African-American teachers in the Little Rock School District as the plaintiff in the case challenging the rate of salaries allotted to teachers in the district based solely on skin color. The tenth library in the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) is named after her. Born in Eudora (Chicot County) to J. Alex Cowan and Leila Roberts Cowan on May 29, 1910, Sue Cowan began life in a small town in Arkansas. Her mother died soon after her birth. Raised until age four by her maternal grandmother in Texas, Cowan returned to Arkansas to live with her father. From fifth grade until high school, she attended Spelman, a religious boarding school in Atlanta, Georgia. She undertook undergraduate …

Wilson, Alexander (Lynching of)

On October 20, 1919, an African-American man named Alexander (Alex) Wilson was lynched near Marianna (Lee County) for allegedly murdering Ruth Murrah (identified in many newspaper articles as Rosa or Rose), who was about nineteen years old. Wilson had attacked Ruth, who was killed, and a relative named Estelle, who escaped. There was a Murrah family in Lee County as early as 1880. Charles Murrah was working as a farm laborer in Bear Creek Township and living with his wife, Celia, and their one-year-old daughter, Mary. A family member (probably a daughter) named Clara Belle, age fourteen, married thirty-one-year-old William Clifton in August 1893. By 1900 Murrah, age fifty-four, owned his own farm in Bear Creek Township. Also in the …

Wilson, Tom (Lynching of)

In late February 1884, Tom (sometimes referred to as Thomas) Wilson, an African-American man, was lynched near Conway (Faulkner County) for allegedly attempting to assault a woman identified only as Mrs. Griffy. Several other newspaper accounts identify her husband as William Griffy. No further information is available on either Wilson or the Griffy family in Faulkner County. According to a report published in the Arkansas Gazette on February 21, the lynching had occurred “several days since.” According to the Gazette and several other national newspapers, including the Little Falls Transcript, William Griffy was away from his farm overnight when Wilson entered the house and attempted to assault Mrs. Griffy. She screamed and attacked him with a fire shovel, whereupon he …

Wingo, Effiegene Locke

In 1930, Effiegene Locke Wingo became the second of only four women from Arkansas to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where she served from November 4, 1930, to March 3, 1933. Wingo introduced eighteen bills and served on three House committees during her congressional service. Effiegene Locke, daughter of George T. Locke and Callie Blanche Dooley Locke, was born in Lockesburg (Sevier County) on April 13, 1883. She attended Union Female College in Oxford, Mississippi, but it is unknown if she graduated from this institution. In 1902, she graduated from Maddox Seminary in Little Rock (Pulaski County) with a bachelor’s degree in music. On October 15, 1902, she married Otis Theodore Wingo, a lawyer and banker who …

Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU)

aka: Arkansas Woman's Christian Temperance Union
The Arkansas chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was established in 1879 in affiliation with the national WCTU, which originated as a state organization in Ohio in 1873. The Arkansas WCTU advocated for the abstinence of alcohol in Arkansas as well as supporting the state and national movements to prohibit the sale, manufacture, and consumption of alcohol. The organization also provided a political outlet for women in Arkansas through its campaigns, local option petitioning, and its newsletter, the Arkansas White Ribboner, which ran from 1888 to 1984. In 1876, Lydia Chase, a national union member from Ohio, moved to Arkansas and gave a lecture on temperance to a group of women at a Presbyterian church in Monticello (Drew …

Woman’s Chronicle

On March 3, 1888, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) three women—Catherine Campbell Cuningham, Mary Burt Brooks, and Haryot Holt Cahoon—published the first issue of the Woman’s Chronicle, a weekly newspaper dedicated to women’s interests, particularly suffrage. Cuningham was listed as the editor, Brooks and Cahoon as associate editors. The previous year, the short-lived Little Rock publication the Southern Ladies’ Journal had ended its run, leaving a void that it appears these women sought to fill. The founding meeting of the Arkansas Equal Suffrage Association had been held the month before, likely generating some of the motivation as well. The Woman’s Chronicle focused on women’s primary day-to-day interests at the time—cooking, fashion, and literature—in addition to social gatherings, events, and the …

Women

From prehistoric times through the French and Spanish colonial eras, from the territorial period through statehood, secession, Reconstruction, and modernization, women have played major and defining roles in the development and history of Arkansas. Women of every race, ethnicity, religion, social class, and legal status have been instrumental in shaping the culture and social structure of Arkansas, even as they have been forced to struggle for equal rights, political and legal equality, economic and social independence—even the most basic human right of freedom. Prehistory The first women in Arkansas were likely the descendants of Asians who crossed the land bridge to North America between 18,000 and 10,000 BC. During the Paleoindian, Woodland, Archaic, and Mississippian periods, women farmed, hunted, and …

Women in the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union

The Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union (STFU) was an organization of tenant farmers formed in 1934 in Tyronza (Poinsett County). The union was notable for three things: racially integrating union locals in some areas, relying on evangelical church traditions in meetings, and utilizing the work of women at all levels of the organization. For many women involved in the STFU, the organization served as a springboard into other activism, particularly in the civil rights movement. Women in the union came from all social backgrounds. Society women were active throughout the country, raising money and promoting awareness for the STFU. Women were also crucial at the local level among the sharecropper class, partially because it was necessary for officers to have a certain degree of …

Women’s Action for New Directions, Arkansas Chapter

aka: Arkansas WAND
Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering women in politics, particularly through social justice, peace, and nonviolence initiatives; Arkansas created its own chapter in the mid-1990s. The organization has its roots in the Women’s Party for Survival, founded by Helen Caldicott, and became known as the Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament around 1982, with a focus on denuclearization and reduction of U.S. spending on military and defense. Against the backdrop of the Cold War, the 1980s saw a number of women’s peace and anti-nuclear organizations forming in the United States, including Another Mother for Peace, Women Against Military Madness (WAMM), The Ribbon, Grandmothers for Peace, and Peace Links; the latter was formed by …

Women’s Intentional Communities

aka: Women's Land Communities
Women’s intentional communities emerged in the context of the second wave of the women’s movement, encompassing feminist values and environmentalism, as well as the back-to-the-land, hippie, and anti-war movements. The intentional women’s land communities discussed here were located in northwest Arkansas. There may have been others in the state, but their presence has not been documented. (There is no consensus regarding the definition and meaning of “intentional communities.” For the purpose of this entry, women’s intentional communities are defined as including a variety of communal living arrangements based on a shared set of explicit values. Intentional communities are often property based and include land trusts among other types of collective living. In the broader context of individualism, intentional communities are …

Women’s Library

The Women’s Library was formed in Fayetteville (Washington County) in 1982. Completely volunteer based and operated, the library lent books, musical recordings, and local and national periodicals that supported women’s rights and self-education. Many of these materials could not be found at Fayetteville’s public library or in local bookstores, and so the library was a central resource for early gender and women’s studies courses at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville. The library sponsored special events like book and craft fairs, live music, and poetry readings in its space. In addition, it donated materials to women’s prisons and to the Women’s Project in Little Rock (Pulaski County). The library closed in 2000. The Women’s Library was created by a …

Women’s Project

The Women’s Project began in 1980 in Eureka Springs (Carroll County) as the Arkansas Women’s Training Project (AWTP) and was incorporated as the Women’s Project in 1985. It was founded by Suzanne Pharr, a VISTA volunteer, with Bob Torvestad and Freeman McKindra of VISTA providing its first staff: five VISTA volunteers who were located throughout the state. The organization was sponsored by the Northwest District of the United Methodist Church. Initial funding came from the National Women’s Division of the United Methodist Church and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. A feminist, anti-racist organization, the AWTP worked with women in small towns throughout Arkansas to gain skills to confront local issues. In 1982, the Women’s Project relocated to Little Rock (Pulaski County) in …

Women’s Suffrage Movement

After the Civil War, Arkansas leaders began advocating women’s right to vote. Women’s suffrage clubs started to organize, and an Arkansas women’s suffrage movement emerged. These suffragist leaders lectured at meetings, campaigned on street corners, and lobbied the Arkansas legislature for a women’s suffrage law. This campaign ended in 1920 with the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women the right to vote. An Arkansas law proposing women’s suffrage was initially introduced by Miles Ledford Langley of Arkadelphia (Clark County), a representative to the Arkansas Constitutional Convention of 1868. On February 11, 1868, the Arkansas Gazette reported that he made a motion that “all citizens 21 years of age, who can read and write the English language, shall be …

Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools (WEC)

The Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools (WEC) was formed on September 12, 1958, to combat the governor’s closing of Little Rock (Pulaski County) high schools. The first meeting of the organization was held on September 16. During the summer after the 1957 desegregation crisis at Central High School in Little Rock, Governor Orval Faubus invoked a recently passed state law and closed the schools to prevent further desegregation. The WEC became the first organization to publicly support reopening the schools under the district’s desegregation plan. It remained active until 1963. Forty-eight women met in September 1958 in the antebellum home of Adolphine Fletcher Terry, the widow of U.S. Congressman David D. Terry and a local activist for libraries, …

Woodman, Joe (Lynching of)

On July 6, 1905, an African-American sawmill worker probably named Joe Woodman (one newspaper identifies him as James Woods) was hanged in Dumas (Desha County) for eloping with a local white girl. According to the Arkansas Democrat, Woodman was the only African American working at a sawmill near Rives, which is on the border between Drew and Desha counties. Woodman allegedly left home on July 5 at the same time the sixteen-year-old daughter of a local man, J. S. Small, was found to be missing. After investigating the girl’s disappearance, authorities determined that a couple fitting the description of Woodman and Small was seen on a northbound train. Authorities notified Jefferson County sheriff James Gould, and he located the couple …

Wordlaw, William

William Wordlaw (sometimes spelled Wardlow or Wordlow) was one of twelve men arrested and charged with murder following the events of the Elaine Massacre of 1919. After brief trials, the so-called Elaine Twelve—six who became known as the Moore defendants and six (including Wordlaw) who became known as the Ware defendants—were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Ultimately, the Ware defendants were freed by the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1923; after numerous legal efforts, the Moore defendants were freed in 1925. William Wordlaw was born to sharecroppers Edd and Georgia Wordlaw on August 19, 1897, in Pontotoc, Mississippi. William and his six siblings grew up helping their parents farm the land. According to his draft registration documents, he …

Wright v. Arkansas

Wright v. Arkansas was a case involving same-sex marriage in Arkansas. Beginning with a May 2014 decision by a state district court judge, which overturned Arkansas’s ban on gay marriage, the case was stalled in the courts for the next fourteen months. In response to the original decision, one that came amidst the turmoil that surrounded the issue of gay marriage nationwide, the state attorney general secured a temporary stay of the ruling from the Arkansas Supreme Court. Subsequently, additional efforts were undertaken to get a full review by the state’s highest court and then, alternatively, in a special court. A change in the occupants of the offices of both governor and state attorney general contributed to delays, however, and …

Wynne Lynching of 1892

On June 29, 1892, an unidentified African-American man was apparently lynched in Wynne (Cross County) for allegedly assaulting a young girl. Although the New York Sun reported that the girl was black and that the mob was made up of African Americans, the Forrest City Times told a slightly different story. According to the Times, passengers traveling south on the Iron Mountain Railroad reported the “loss” of an African-American man in Wynne on the night of the June 29. The unidentified black man had allegedly tried to assault a six-year-old white girl that morning. The two were found in a closet, and the girl reported what had happened to her. The man was jailed, but the next morning the doors …

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer was a women’s communal-living farm in Madison County in the 1970s, representative of women’s land groups that existed in northwest Arkansas at that time. The back-to-the-land movement and the women’s movement came together in the early to mid-1970s to create the women’s land movement, self- or nearly self-sufficient land communities organized by and for women. The women’s land movement had many roots, including the hippie and anti-war movements, environmentalism, and feminism, many of which were interwoven. In 1970, founders Trella Laughlin and Patricia Jackson were in Austin, Texas, playing in an “all-girls band,” learning about solar energy, sharing resources and living spaces, and protesting the Vietnam War. Soon afterward, they moved with friends to land in rural Pope County, …

Young, Rufus King

Rufus King Young was an influential church and civil rights leader in Arkansas in the second half of the twentieth century. As the leader of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Little Rock (Pulaski County), he was actively involved in the local civil rights movement and the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Rufus King Young was born on May 13, 1911, to Robert Young and Laura Scott Young in Bayou Bartholomew (Drew County). He received his early education at Young’s Chapel AME Church, an institution built on land originally owned by his grandfather, before graduating in 1933 from Chicot County Training School in Dermott (Chicot County). He continued his education at Shorter College in North …