Entries - Entry Category: Law

Tucker, Frank (Lynching of)

On September 15, 1932, an African-American man named Frank Tucker was lynched in Crossett (Ashley County) for allegedly attacking deputy city marshal Henry Reed with a razor. Reed had been in Crossett for about eight years and had worked as a marshal for three. According to the Arkansas Gazette, he was “well and favorably known among the business men of the city.” Frank Tucker had lived in Crossett almost his whole life, and at the time of the 1920 census, he was twelve years old and living there with his parents, Sidney and Melissa Tucker. His father was working in a lumber mill, and Tucker was attending school; both could read and write. By 1932, Tucker, too, was working in …

Tucker, James (Execution of)

James Tucker was an African American man hanged at Paris (Logan County) on May 30, 1884, for murdering his partner at their farm on Red Bench Mountain. James Tucker and Aaron Barker rented property on Red Bench Mountain in Logan County, where they built a cabin and were growing cotton on their small farm. Tucker suspected that Barker had some money, and on the night of December 27, 1883, he “stole upon his victim while asleep and discharged both loads of a double-barreled gun into his person.” After stealing “the trifling sum that he possessed,” Tucker fled deeper into the mountains. The erstwhile farmer “became an outlaw, terrorizing the community and defying the authorities.” He evaded repeated attempts to catch …

Turner v. Arkansas (1991)

Turner v. Arkansas, 784 F. Supp. 585 (E.D. Ark. 1991), a 1991 decision by the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Eastern District of Arkansas, was the culmination of a battle over the drawing of congressional districts within the state, one that reflected the growing challenges states faced in the reapportionment process required after each decennial census. The dispute stemmed from challenges to the redistricting effort that had been undertaken by the Arkansas General Assembly in Act 1220 of 1991. The plaintiffs Jessie Turner, Christine Brownlee, Jack Foster, Alan Smith, and Freddie Lyon argued that the plan violated the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution as well as the federal Voting Rights Act—and most importantly ran afoul …

Turner, Jesse

Jesse Turner, a North Carolina native, was a lawyer and politician who played a major but fickle role in Arkansas’s long odyssey through slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. He finally turned to economic development, principally railroads. He was a leader of the Whig Party in Arkansas until its disintegration during the Civil War, and he then took a respite from politics; during Reconstruction, he returned as a Democrat. Turner was elected to both houses of the Arkansas General Assembly, was the federal prosecuting attorney in the new United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas, and served briefly as an associate justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court. He spent most of his life in Van Buren (Crawford …

Turner, John (Lynching of)

An African American man named John Turner was lynched in Warren (Bradley County) on April 5, 1903, after having allegedly “attempted assault” on a local white woman. The victim of the alleged assault (referred to as both Mrs. Neeley and Mrs. Neely in various sources) was referenced in newspaper reports as “Mrs. W. H. Neeley, a white lady who resides about seven miles west of town.” There was, at the time of the 1900 census, a Lillian A. Neely, wife of Walter H. Neely, residing in Pennington Township in Bradley County. The identity of John Turner is much more difficult to trace, there being multiple Black men of that name on the 1900 census. According to an early report in …

Turner, Otis Hawes

Otis Hawes Turner was a widely respected trial lawyer who practiced in Arkadelphia (Clark County) and then later served as a circuit judge before being appointed justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court by Governor Bill Clinton in 1990. Otis Turner was born on October 18, 1927, in Arkadelphia, one of seven children of Cleveland “Cleve” (or “Bear”) Turner and Laura Eva Flanagin Turner. Before he became a pharmacist, Turner’s father was a baseball player from Hope (Hempstead County) who played in three professional leagues in Arkansas and Texas in the first decade of the twentieth century. Two of his sons, Cleve Jr. and Otis, inherited his athletic acumen. The elder Turner attended Henderson College and Ouachita Baptist College at Arkadelphia …

Turner, William (Lynching of)

Nineteen-year-old William Turner was lynched in Helena (Phillips County) on November 18, 1921, for allegedly attacking a young white girl. According to newspaper accounts, it was the first lynching in Helena. Early on the morning of November 18, Turner allegedly attacked a teenaged girl as she was walking to her job at the telephone exchange. He was arrested and placed in the jail, which adjoined the courthouse. According to the Arkansas Gazette, local citizens, in a state of “suppressed excitement,” began to gather near the courthouse during the afternoon. In an attempt to protect Turner from harm, two deputy sheriffs put him into a car shortly after dark to take him to jail in nearby Marianna (Lee County). They were …

U.S. Marshals Service (USMS)

The U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) is the oldest federal law enforcement agency in the nation. Divided into ninety-four districts, the agency’s structure aligns with that of the United States district courts. Arkansas has two districts—the Western District headquartered in Fort Smith (Sebastian County) and the Eastern District headquartered in Little Rock (Pulaski County). During the nineteenth century, fugitives often fled to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) in an effort to escape prosecution. Apprehending these criminals was a dangerous assignment for the U.S. deputy marshals—consequently, there are more deputy and special deputy marshals buried in the Fort Smith region than anywhere else in the nation. On September 24, 1789, George Washington signed Senate Bill 1, which included the Judiciary Act, of which …

U.S. Term Limits Inc. v. Thornton

The case U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton (514 U.S. 779, 1995) began as a conflict over term limitations placed on those elected to the House of Representatives (three terms in office) and the U.S. Senate (two terms in office) from the state of Arkansas. It ended with the U.S. Supreme Court interpreting the role of the states in the federal structure created by the U.S. Constitution. The Court resolved the dispute by ruling that the qualifications for those elected to the U.S. Congress listed in the U.S. Constitution are exclusive. Thus, states may not impose additional qualifications upon candidates for the U.S. Congress either directly, or, as in the case of Arkansas, indirectly. Arkansas imposed term limitations through Amendment …

Underwood, James M. (Execution of)

James M. Underwood was hanged on December 7, 1883, near Dardanelle (Yell County) for the shotgun slaying of a prominent local farmer. James M. Underwood, a native of Tennessee, lived at the home of “well-to-do farmer” Robert J. Pendergrass about five miles south of Dardanelle, as he worked on the Pendergrass farm. However, “an intimacy between Mr. P.’s wife and Underwood caused a quarrel in the family, which ended by Underwood changing his home.” He moved in with Joshua Toomer nearby. On September 1, 1883, Pendergrass drove his wagon into Dardanelle to conduct some business. When he was nearing his home later that day, “he was fired on from the brush and killed instantly.…Mr. P. had received the buckshot in …

Union County Lynching of 1873

In the spring of 1873, four unidentified African Americans were reportedly murdered by other black residents in Union County in response to a hideous attack they allegedly committed on a white woman. Newspapers across the nation printed the report, based on a letter written by county resident Thomas Warren to a friend in Clay County, Missouri. In 1870, Warren, a native of Missouri, was a farm laborer living near Van Buren (Crawford County) with his wife and two children. Warren reported that in mid-March 1873, a pregnant married woman in Union County started off on horseback to stay with a neighbor for several days. When she arrived at the neighbor’s house, no one was there, and she started to ride …

Union County Lynching of 1904

Three people were lynched in the Union County community of Mount Holly on August 30, 1904. These include one white man known only as Stover (or Stowers), a black man sometimes identified as Smead Stith, and a black woman identified only as Bates. There was a black man named Smead Stith living in Union County during the 1900 census. He was aged nineteen and working as a farm laborer. Two white men, Charley and Jessie Stover, father and son, are recorded as living in Claiborne Parish, Louisiana, on the same census, both working as farmers. There are a number of possibilities for the identity of Bates in both southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana. The Osceola Times covered the situation more …

United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas

The United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas is the federal trial court of record for thirty-four counties in western, south-central, and north-central Arkansas. With headquarters in Fort Smith (Sebastian County) and branches in Fayetteville (Washington County), Harrison (Boone County), Texarkana (Miller County), Hot Springs (Garland County), and El Dorado (Union County), the three judges and two magistrates of the Western District under Article III, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution exercise judicial power over “all cases in law and equity, arising under [the] constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made or which shall be made.” Generally, the Western District exercises power over two broadly defined types of civil cases: those that involve a …

United States v. Burch

The court case of United States v. Burch centered upon Chris Burch’s opposition to Bill Barnes’s expansion of his private resort community, Mountain Harbor Resort, farther into the Ouachita National Forest in western Arkansas. Chris Burch had lived around the forest since 1977 and enjoyed its natural beauty. Bill Barnes’s father had leased lands from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1955, and Barnes was continuing his father’s work: to develop the land to meet the public’s needs as was dictated by the lease. Burch’s family, who owned and operated a small motel and general store, was friendly with—and even referred customers to—Barnes, who frequently returned the favor. Burch, however, was troubled when Barnes requested a new lease over …

United States v. Miller et al.

United States v. Miller et al. originated in the U.S. District Court, Western District of Arkansas, Fort Smith Division when a federal grand jury indicted two men for transporting a sawed-off shotgun from Oklahoma to Arkansas in violation of a federal firearm statute. The case eventually became the single instance in which the U.S. Supreme Court explicitly tackled the Second Amendment in the twentieth century, and it remains controversial to this day. The National Firearms Act (NFA), Public Law 73-474, effective July 26, 1934, was in reaction to widespread gun violence during the Prohibition era. The NFA required that certain weapons—principally machine guns, sawed-off shotguns and rifles, and silencers—be registered with the federal government and be heavily taxed. On April …

United States v. Waddell et al.

United States v. Waddell et al. is a U.S. Supreme Court case that arose from an 1883 incident of nightriding (sometimes called whitecapping) in Van Buren County, in which a group of armed white men attempted to drive off a Black homesteader. The case centered upon the question of whether or not an individual, having settled upon a piece of property for purposes of obtaining a federal homestead, enjoyed the protection of the federal government in attempting to exercise his rights in the face of conspiracies to intimidate. On December 13, 1882, Burrell Lindsay (sometimes spelled Lindsey), an African American man, made a homestead entry for a tract of land in Bradley Township in southeastern Van Buren County. On the …

University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law is one of two Arkansas law schools, both of which are state supported and part of the University of Arkansas System. The first formal program of legal education in Arkansas was established in Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1868 and was known as the Little Rock Law Class. Arkansas Industrial University, now the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), assumed sponsorship of this law class in 1892, establishing the Law Department in Little Rock under the deanship of Judge Frank Goar. The Law Department existed until 1915, when, as the result of disagreement between the law school and the board of trustees over the law …

Usury

The concept of usury (defined as the lending of money with an interest charge—usually an exorbitant one) and its application to the lending function have generated significant head scratching and hand wringing over the years, especially in Arkansas. In fact, for much of recorded history, the lending of money at interest has simply not been considered a wholesome activity. In some early Jewish and Christian communities, it was considered immoral to take advantage of a needy neighbor by adding interest at any rate to his already burdensome debts. To this day, some majority-Muslim countries observing the law of Sharia, as set forth in the Koran and the Sunna, prohibit lending at interest at any rate, based on the same rationale. …

Van Buren County Lynching of 1894

In early February 1894, three white men—Robert Plunkett, Charles Plunkett, and Henry Bruce—were lynched in Van Buren County for allegedly attacking and robbing an unidentified elderly couple. While no specific date is given in any of the reports, the lynching had to have happened before February 10, when the first accounts were published. Citing “meager details,” accounts indicate only that the lynching happened in what was known as “the Gulch,” and that the men’s alleged crime had “aroused great indignation” in the neighborhood. For additional information: “A Lynching.” Arkansas Gazette, February 10, 1894, p. 2. “Three Men Lynched. Indianapolis Journal, February 10, 1894, p. 3. “A Triple Lynching.” Forrest City Times, February 16, 1894, p. 8. Nancy Snell Griffith Davidson, …

Van Leuven, Kathryn

Kathryn Van Leuven was a pioneering attorney in the early part of the twentieth century. The daughter of a lawyer, she became interested in her father’s work at a young age and subsequently went on to be a leading figure in legal circles, the first woman to hold a number of public positions. Although she was born and reared in Arkansas, her legal career was mostly in the new state of Oklahoma, which was admitted to the union just as she married and settled there. While there are some conflicting reports, the best evidence indicates that Kathryn Nedry was born on February 5, 1888, in Fort Smith (Sebastian County). One of six children of John and Catherine Nedry, she grew …

Vapors

The Vapors was a nightclub in Hot Springs (Garland County) during the last era of illegal gambling in the city. Upscale entertainment in the style of Las Vegas, Nevada—featuring well-known acts like Edgar Bergen, the Smothers Brothers, and Tony Bennett—distinguished it from many of the rival clubs in the area. Dane Harris, who had been a World War II pilot, accumulated money from a stake he had in the Belvedere Country Club and casino during the 1950s and used that money to build the Vapors nightclub. Harris partnered with Owen Vincent “Owney” Madden, owner of the Cotton Club in New York and a noted gangster, to build the nightclub at a site at 315 Park Avenue formerly occupied by the …

Varner Unit

The Varner Unit is a detention facility run by the Arkansas Department of Correction. It is located in the Choctaw Township of Lincoln County, along U.S. Highway 65, about thirty miles south of Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). The Varner Unit was constructed in response to the state’s fast-growing inmate population; other state facilities had been expanded prior to Varner’s construction. When it opened in 1987, it could accommodate 300 prisoners; its capacity was increased to 700 and then later to around 1,700. The Varner Unit is made up of two separate units: the Supermax Unit and the Varner Unit. The Supermax Unit was opened in 2000 and in 2003 became home to all the state’s male death row inmates. In …

Vaughn, Samuel (Execution of)

Samuel Vaughn was hanged at Fayetteville (Washington County) on April 27, 1894, for hiring a man to murder a business rival. Samuel F. Vaughn (sometimes spelled Vaughan) was born in Morgan County, Tennessee, in 1848. His family moved to Arkansas and settled in Madison County three years later, and he would become popular enough to be elected to positions as a constable and county assessor. He became involved in a land purchase with Andrew Gage, who had served as county clerk. It then went sour, leading to a contentious lawsuit. On September 26, 1891, Gage was working on his Madison County farm when he was shot in the back “and killed instantly,” with the Arkansas Democrat reporting that “the charge …

Voting and Voting Rights

Voting rights in Arkansas have evolved from an initial narrow limitation to today’s near-comprehensive voting rights. 1836 Original State Constitution In 1836, when Arkansas became a state, it had neither a property requirement nor a taxpaying requirement for voting eligibility—unlike seven of the twenty-five states of the Union at the time. This was in keeping with Jacksonian democratic principles and was somewhat advanced for the South, where many states had these types of restrictive requirements. To vote, a person had to be male, of the white race, a U.S. citizen, and a citizen of the state for at least six months. Some twenty of the twenty-five states then had some type of race exclusion, including all of the South. Most …

Waggoner, William Jayson (Bill)

William Jayson Waggoner, a lifelong resident of Lonoke County, served for forty-one years as circuit judge. Elected state representative in 1914, he served in that role until resigning to take a commission in the U.S. Army in 1917. Upon his return, he was elected prosecuting attorney and continued to serve in elected office for the rest of his life. Bill Waggoner was born near the community of Needmore (Lonoke County) on November 12, 1889, to Thomas J. Waggoner and Nancy Munsch Waggoner; he was one of ten children. After Waggoner’s father’s death in 1898, the family lived in Carlisle (Lonoke County) and Lonoke (Lonoke County). Waggoner’s mother remarried in 1911 to William Henry Stout. After graduating from the Law Department …

Wainwright, Larry (Murder of)

The 1967 murder of Larry Wainwright, an African-American teenager, near his home in the black neighborhood of Morning Star rocked the city of El Dorado (Union County) and remains an important civil rights–era cold case. This was not the first time Morning Star had been subjected to racist violence. Whites would regularly drive through the neighborhood and throw bottles or bricks at the black men, women, and children, seriously injuring them. Wainwright’s parents, Melvin and Louise Wainwright, and the African American community of Morning Star mourned the loss but also rallied in the wake of Wainwright’s death, ensuring that the murder was publicized beyond Union County and El Dorado. Although national attention was lacking, newspapers such as the Northwest Arkansas …

Walker, Dock (Execution of)

Dock Walker was a thirty-four-year-old African American man hanged at Texarkana (Miller County) on June 27, 1884, for the shotgun slaying of a friend. Dock Walker was born enslaved in North Carolina but moved with his brother to Monroe, Louisiana, after emancipation, and the two established a farm there on the Ouachita River. Walker’s brother “made a hellish assault upon a highly respectable white lady” and was burned at the stake, after which Walker moved to Miller County around 1882 with a “pal,” Lucius Grant. The pair settled about twelve miles from Texarkana. According to the Arkansas Gazette, Walker “had a pretty good reputation when sober, but when under the influence of whisky, was very quarrelsome and inclined to fight.” …

Walker, John Winfred

John Winfred Walker was a lawyer who emerged from segregated schools and society in southwestern Arkansas to wage a sixty-year war on discrimination in Arkansas’s education systems, public institutions, and workforce. Walker’s name became synonymous with civil rights in Arkansas after the initial legal battle from 1957 to 1959 to desegregate Central High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Once out of Yale University’s law school in 1964, Walker took over the long-running school-integration lawsuit in Little Rock and also filed scores of lawsuits in federal courts to force recalcitrant school districts across Arkansas to put black and white children in the same classrooms or coequal learning environments. Other suits by Walker and his young partners in one of the …

Walker, Nick (Execution of)

Nick Walker was a young African American man who was hanged in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on March 23, 1883, for the murder of a romantic rival the year before. Nick Walker was born into slavery near Dallas, Texas, around 1859. He said he never knew either of his parents but at some point moved to a place near Camden (Ouachita County) where an aunt lived, staying there until 1878. He eventually moved to Little Rock and worked for the Iron Mountain Railroad. He became enamored of a prostitute named Susan Robinson in Argenta (now North Little Rock in Pulaski County), whom he knew from Ouachita County. Robinson was also involved with a man named Tom Jenkins (sometimes referred to …

Wallace, John (Reported Lynching of)

Beginning in the 1880s and increasingly as Jim Crow laws were instituted across the South, newspapers across the United States began to expand their coverage of Southern lynchings. In addition, publications like the Chicago Tribune and organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama began to keep annual lists of lynchings. In her 1895 book The Red Record, Ida B. Wells-Barnett also attempted to include a comprehensive list of lynchings. Not all of these lists, upon further analysis, were accurate, and more recent lynching lists often also include certain erroneous accounts. Further examination of newspaper reports shows that subsequent articles, particularly local to the site of the lynchings, later corrected …

Wallace, Sidney

Sidney Wallace was a legendary part of the state’s folklore during Arkansas’s Reconstruction. Some portrayed him as boldly resisting bushwhackers and carpetbaggers, while, to others, Wallace was a symbol of the lawless frontier life that Arkansas needed to transcend. Sid Wallace was born on the Wallace family farm near Clarksville (Johnson County) on August 11, 1851, the fifth of seven children of Vincent Wallace, a Methodist minister, and his wife, Ruth Suggs Wallace. On December 31, 1863, Wallace’s father was murdered in front of his house by three or more men wearing Union army coats. Accounts vary concerning the attackers, whether they were Union soldiers or local bushwhackers in disguise. Some accounts suggest that Wallace was a witness to his …

Walls, A. J.

Andrew Jackson (A. J.) Walls was a Lonoke County pioneer, planter, and elected public official in the early days of the county. He was a state representative, chairman of the State Democratic Committee, and father and grandfather of many prominent Lonoke County lawyers and politicians. A. J. Walls was born on April 2, 1862, in the Pleasant Hills community in northern Lonoke County (about ten miles north of Lonoke, the county seat). He was the son of Jackson Walls, a native of North Carolina, and Catherine Dickerson Cook, who was a native of Tennessee. Tax records reveal that the elder Jackson owned real estate in Pleasant Hills in 1852. He married Catherine Dickerson Cook, his second wife, in 1860. Walls …

Walnut Ridge Race War of 1912

The Walnut Ridge Race War of 1912 was an instance of violent nightriding (also known as whitecapping) in which a group of white vigilantes attempted to drive African Americans from the city of Walnut Ridge (Lawrence County). They did not succeed in making Walnut Ridge an all-white town, but they did manage to drive Black laborers from certain local industries, which was often the aim of nightriders, who were frequently poor whites who wanted those jobs for themselves. In early April 1912, notices signed “Kit Karson and Band” were posted in Walnut Ridge ordering local African Americans to leave the city. A committee of white citizens responded to this threat by posting their own warnings to the band in question, …

Ward, John Paul

John Paul Ward was a lawyer and politician from Independence County who spent the last twenty-six years of his career as a trial and appellate judge. He was an associate justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court from 1951 until 1968.  John Paul Ward—who went by Paul—was born on February 20, 1890, in Batesville (Independence County), the son of W. J. Ward and Mollie Churchill Ward. He was educated in the Batesville public schools, received a bachelor’s degree at Arkansas College (now Lyon College) in Batesville in 1912, attended Tulane University in New Orleans, and received a law degree at the University of Oklahoma in Norman in 1915. When the United States entered World War I, he enlisted and became a commissioned officer in the American Expeditionary Force’s hundred-day offensive, the Meuse River-Argonne Forest Campaign in France, during the fall of 1918, the …

Warden, Granville (Murder of)

The 1883 murder of an African American man named Granville Warden at Duncan Station (Monroe County) appears as a lynching on the Equal Justice Initiative’s website and several other lynching inventories. The murder itself may not actually qualify as a lynching, however, depending upon the definition employed. Two men were eventually convicted of being directly involved, and then only on charges of intimidating a witness. But the case itself is notable since it brought up crucial questions of state and federal jurisdiction. In 1880, twenty-six-year-old farm laborer Granville Warden was living in Pine Ridge Township in Monroe County with his wife, Fanny, whom he had married in June 1879. Also in the household were three young children: Salena, Louisa, and …

Ware, Jim and Jack (Lynching of)

On July 14, 1895, brothers Jim and Jack Ware, who allegedly assisted Wiley Bunn in the murder of Allen Martin, were lynched in Hampton (Calhoun County). The Ware family had been living in Calhoun County for some time. In 1870, Moses and Easter Ware were living in Jackson Township. Among their children were two sons, fifteen-year-old James (Jim) Ware and thirteen-year-old Jack. Moses and James Ware were working as laborers. They were still in Jackson Township in 1880. Jack, along with James and James’s wife, Susan, were still living with their parents. Moses was farming, and both James and John were working as laborers. In 1880, fourteen-year-old Willey (Wiley) Bunn was living in Jackson Township with his parents, Drew and …

Warren, Joyce Elise Williams

Joyce Elise Williams Warren was the first Black female judge in the Pulaski County system and the first in Arkansas. She has also authored A Booklet for Parents, Guardians, and Custodians in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases (2000), which has been translated into Spanish and has been widely distributed in Arkansas and other states. She has appeared in several training videos and other videos concerning juvenile and domestic relations law and related issues. Joyce Elise Williams was born in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) on October 25, 1949, one of two children of Albert Lewis Williams Jr. and Marian Eloise Longley Williams, both teachers. She attended Gibbs Elementary School and was one of ten Black students who integrated West Side Junior …

Warren, Will (Lynching of)

Will Warren, an African-American man, was murdered in rural Garland County on January 15, 1916, as the result of an apparent quarrel with some young white boys. After murdering Warren, a white mob burned down his house and a local black church. Warren is described in newspaper reports as being one of the leading figures in a black settlement located between Buckville (Garland County) and Cedar Glades (Garland County). Determining the exact identity of Warren is difficult, as no report on his murder includes his age, occupation, or other identifiers. However, there was a Willie Warren, then nineteen years old, listed on the 1910 census in neighboring Montgomery County working as a farm laborer. Willie Warren lived in Fir Township, …

Washington County Lynching of 1856

aka: Randall (Execution of)
A mob of white citizens lynched two enslaved Black men, Aaron and Anthony, outside the city limits of Fayetteville (Washington County) on July 7, 1856. Racial terror lynching was a reality across the state, including northwestern Arkansas, during the antebellum period. On the night of May 29, 1856, according to hearsay evidence, Aaron and Anthony attempted to rob and then attacked their enslaver, James Boone, at the door of his home in Richland Township. A third Black man, Randall, enslaved by Peter Mankins and the minor children of David Wilson Williams, was also reported to be involved. By the next morning, enslaved housekeepers were said to have found Boone injured near the entry of his home. Despite the lack of …

Washington, George (Lynching of)

In the spring of 1871, an African American named George Washington was lynched in Baxter County for allegedly assaulting a young girl. The girl’s father is variously referred to as James or George Calvin, with the surname sometimes given as Galvin. He lived on the White River south of Mountain Home (Baxter County). Public records reveal nothing about these people. The 1870 census lists no adult George or James Calvin or Galvin in Baxter County, or even in the state of Arkansas. The same is true in neighboring counties in Missouri. There was also no African American named George Washington listed in Baxter County. In his account of the lynching, Vincent Anderson quotes an article from the Baxter County Citizen, …

Watkins, George Claibourne

George Claibourne Watkins was a prominent attorney in nineteenth-century Arkansas. His partnership with Chester Ashley is one of the roots from which one of the state’s most respected firms, the Rose Law Firm, grew. In addition to his role in the development of the firm, Watkins also served briefly as chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court. George C. Watkins was born on November 25, 1815, in Shelbyville, Kentucky, to Isaac Watkins and Marie Toncray Watkins. In late 1820, seeking new opportunities, the family set out for the newly opened territory of Arkansas. They arrived in March 1821, and, settling in what would become Little Rock (Pulaski County), the family quickly earned a place among the town’s most prominent early …

Watkins, William (Execution of)

William Watkins was hanged in White County on April 25, 1873, for the murder of his landlord; his execution made national headlines when he attempted to choke himself to death on the gallows. William Watkins, a native of Franklin, Georgia, moved to White County around 1871 and rented land near Searcy (White County) on the Little Red River from farmer William Swaggerty, possibly as a sharecropper. A newspaper reported of Watkins that “instead of working it [the land] he hunted and fished,” leading Swaggerty to ask “him to work his crop and loaf less.” Watkins, who reportedly had killed three men before moving to White County, in what was called “unquestionably one of the most cowardly and brutal murders imaginable,” …

Watson, Jack Hearn, Jr.

Jack Hearn Watson Jr. is an attorney and former government official who served in a number of positions, including White House chief of staff, during the presidency of Jimmy Carter. Since leaving the White House, he has continued to be an active member of the legal and civic communities, both at home and abroad. Jack H. Watson Jr. was born on October 24, 1938, in El Paso, Texas. The son of a navy enlisted man and his wife, Watson grew up in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). He earned a BS from Vanderbilt University in 1960, and after a stint in the U.S. Marines, where he achieved the rank of captain, Watson attended Harvard Law School. After graduating in 1966, he …

Weaver, Emily

Emily Weaver of Batesville (Independence County) was a young woman who found herself caught up in the unorganized Civil War legal apparatus. Though charged by the Union as a spy and sentenced to hang, her case was eventually dropped for insufficient evidence. Emily Weaver was born to Abram Weaver and Mary Burton Weaver in Chester Valley, Pennsylvania. No birth date for her is given. In 1859, she, her mother, and six of her seven brothers moved to Batesville to be near relatives while Weaver’s father and oldest brother stayed behind to finalize business affairs for an eventual relocation to Memphis, Tennessee. The family stayed at Ninth and Main streets in a house she called “Pleasant Hill.” Weaver’s family was divided, …

Webster, J. H. (Murder of)

J. H. Webster was murdered on May 22, 1894, in a shootout at Forrest City (St. Francis County), when he went there to testify in the trial of a group of whitecappers who had been arrested as the result of an investigation he conducted. His death is sometimes included on inventories of lynchings for the state of Arkansas. J. H. “Harry” Webster was a native of Hardeman County, Tennessee, who had moved to Sheffield, Alabama, to pursue business interests in 1886 before moving to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1893 to begin working as a detective. In late 1893, the sheriff of St. Francis County hired him to investigate a band of whitecappers who had been terrifying African Americans in the western …

Wells, Elias (Lynching of)

On November 20, 1902, an African American man named Wells was lynched in Wynne (Cross County) for allegedly attempting to cut the throat of Max Campbell, a conductor on the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad. Accounts vary as to Wells’s first name. Several newspapers call him Lige, while others give his name as Isaac. He is listed as Lige at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama. Newspapers reported that Wells was from Augusta (Woodruff County), and there is some information available in public records that indicates that Wells’s first name may have been Elias. The 1900 federal census lists twenty-two-year-old Elisa Wells (male) living in DeView Township in Woodruff County. He was literate, working as …

West Memphis Three

The West Memphis Three are Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr., who—as teenagers—were convicted in 1994 of triple murder in West Memphis (Crittenden County). Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley were accused of killing three eight-year-old boys: Chris Byers, Stevie Branch, and Michael Moore. Their trial, which included assertions that the killings were part of a cultic ritual, and subsequent conviction set off a firestorm around the nation and world, inspired books and movies, and led to a movement to re-try or free the three men, believed by many to have been wrongly convicted. On May 6, 1993, Byers, Branch, and Moore were found in a water-filled ditch in the woods of the Robin Hood Hills subdivision less than twenty-four …

West, John (Lynching of)

On July 28, 1922, a laborer named John West was shot to death near Guernsey (Hempstead County) after an argument at a work site over a shared drinking cup. The Arkansas Gazette gives the cause for the lynching as “impudence.” According to the Gazette, on the morning of July 28, John West, an African American recently arrived from Kansas, was working on a paving gang in Hope (Hempstead County). He had an argument with the foreman on the job, Andrew Worthing, another Kansan, who was white. According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal and the Bisbee (Arizona) Daily Review, the argument concerned West’s attempt to use the crew’s common drinking cup. When challenged by Worthing, West declared that “he was as …

Weston v. Arkansas

aka: Arkansas v. Weston
Joseph Harry Weston v. State of Arkansas dealt with two criminal cases that reached the Arkansas Supreme Court in the 1970s, the second of which led the court to declare the state’s old criminal-libel law unconstitutional. Joseph Harry Weston was the owner and editor of a tiny tabloid newspaper in Cave City (Sharp County) called the Sharp Citizen, which he printed off and on from 1972 until 1978. The paper, which was composed on typewritten stationery with hand-drawn headlines, reveled in strongly opinionated articles that alleged corruption and other scandalous behavior by public officials, businessmen, and common citizens, including Weston’s rural neighbors. The editor’s crusades got national attention but put him into almost perpetual conflict with law-enforcement officials, prosecutors, and …

Westside School Shooting

In the early afternoon of March 24, 1998, two students from Westside Middle School, located approximately two miles west of Jonesboro (Craighead County), conducted an armed ambush on teachers and students, which resulted in five dead and ten others injured. The shooters, Andrew Golden and Mitchell Johnson, were arrested and prosecuted for the crime. The incident was one of two school shootings in Arkansas and one of several school shootings across the nation that adjusted school administrators’ and law enforcement officers’ concepts on school security and response plans to violent incidents at schools. The students and teachers had returned from spring break the day before the shooting. Fifth period was just starting at 12:35 p.m. when a fire alarm caused …