Entry Category: Law - Starting with S

Slaughter, Tom

Dead before his twenty-fifth birthday, Tom Slaughter was a violent, arrogant, and handsome conman, bank robber, and killer. When he died on December 9, 1921, in Benton (Saline County), Slaughter had been given the death sentence for murder. Tom Slaughter was born in Bernice, Louisiana, on December 25, 1896, but he lived in the Dallas, Texas, area until he was fourteen. Slaughter then moved to Pope County, Arkansas, where he was convicted of stealing a calf in 1911. Slaughter was sentenced to the Arkansas Boys’ Industrial Home. A few months later, he escaped. He returned to Russellville (Pope County), where he paraded before Sheriff Oates, who arrested him. He escaped from jail the second night. For the next ten years, …

Slave Codes

Slave codes were the legal codification of rules regulating slavery. These official parameters for slavery were enacted in every colony or state that condoned the institution. Even before Arkansas was a recognized territory, slave codes existed in the region. Adopted by the French in 1724, the Code Noir, or Black Code, set the legal structure of slavery in Louisiana during the French and Spanish periods. The Code Noir was a comprehensive and detailed policy that set forth guidelines for almost every facet of slavery. The initial laws were partly designed to set limits upon slave owners and convey certain responsibilities to the masters regarding their slaves, including setting minimal standards for food, clothing and shelter, long-term care of sick or …

Smackover Riot of 1922

In late November 1922, a hooded and robed “cleanup committee”—possibly members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) or some related group—rode through the Smackover (Union County) oil fields in order to drive away “undesirable” people, such as saloon owners and gamblers. The vigilantes killed at least one person, shot at others, and destroyed buildings, and there were widespread reports of floggings and even cases of people being tarred and feathered. This multi-day riot mirrored other vigilante actions in the newly established oil fields in Arkansas. The previous February, the citizens of El Dorado (Union County) had formed a “Law Enforcement League” for the same purpose. Smackover is located twelve miles north of El Dorado in Union County, an area that had relied on …

Smith (Lynching of)

In August 1882, an African-American man known only as Smith in published newspaper reports became the second man ever to be lynched in Pulaski County, according to available records. Jim Sanders had been lynched earlier that year in the county. In part because the victim was named only as “Smith” in published accounts, little information can be gleaned regarding his actual identity. Nothing was reported of the event in the Arkansas Gazette, and most reports that circulated nationally fell along the lines of this bare-bones account published in the Highland Weekly News of Highland County, Ohio: “Smith, who assaulted a white lady near Little Rock, Arkansas, was lynched by a disguised party who shot him to death.” The National Republican …

Smith, Frank Grigsby

Having been elected to an eight-year term, Frank G. Smith took a seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court in October 1912 on the same day the court moved from Arkansas’s first state capitol building in downtown Little Rock (Pulaski County) into its new quarters in the new capitol at Woodlane Street and Fifth Street, now West Capitol Avenue. Thirty-seven years later, in 1949, Smith retired, having served longer at that point than any justice in Arkansas history. Frank Grigsby Smith was born on August 3, 1872, in Marion (Crittenden County) to John Franklin Smith and Martha J. Gidden Smith. His father was a rich planter who had been a colonel on the staff of General Nathan Bedford Forrest during the …

Smith, George Rose

George Rose Smith was a prominent twentieth-century lawyer and state Supreme Court justice. He remains the longest-serving Arkansas Supreme Court justice. George Rose Smith was born on July 26, 1911, in Little Rock (Pulaski County), one of five children of Hay Watson Smith, a minister who served as the pastor of Little Rock’s Second Presbyterian Church for almost forty years, and Jessie Rose Smith. He received his early education in the Little Rock schools before graduating first in his class from Little Rock High School in 1928. Following graduation, Smith went to Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. He soon returned home, however, to attend the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). He graduated first in his …

Smith, Griffin Sr.

Griffin Smith Sr. was a newspaperman, businessman, and lawyer with a strong moralist strain that he brought to an eighteen-year career as chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court. More than any other chief of the court in the history of the Arkansas legal system, Smith used its appellate jurisdiction and his personal command of the court’s influence to promote what he saw as moral and ethical perfection in his adopted state. His passions were writing and crusading, which he brought to years of newspaper work, a short business career, and finally to the Supreme Court, where he delivered elegant prose, if not the most precise legal formulations. Griffin Smith was born on July 13, 1885, in DeKalb County, Tennessee, …

Smith, Henry (Lynching of)

On July 10, 1881, an African American man named Henry Smith was hanged at Des Arc (Prairie County) for allegedly murdering an orphan girl named Lucinda (Lucy) or Matilda (Mattie) Webb. According to census records, an eighteen-year-old laborer named Henry Smith was living in the household of farmer William McBee in White River Township in 1880. Reports on the lynching indicate that, in 1881, he was living on the Stallings place. There were two Stallings (or Stallins) families in White River Township at the time, those of fifty-one-year-old Len C. Stallins and thirty-five-year-old J. B. Stallins. There was an orphan girl named Webb in White River Township in 1880, but the census lists her first name as Tennessee. She was …

Smith, Jim (Lynching of)

Sometime in mid-November 1888, an African-American man named Jim Smith was lynched in Crittenden County for allegedly approaching an unidentified white woman with an insulting proposal. According to the November 30 edition of the Arkansas Democrat, which quotes the Memphis Avalanche, word reached Little Rock (Pulaski County) on November 29 that a black man named Jim Smith approached a married white woman on the road and asked her a question. She recognized him and paused to answer him, whereupon they spoke about “the weather and the cotton crop.” She was not suspicious, and answered his question, whereupon he made her “an insulting proposition.” She became angry and began to hurry away, but he followed, threatening her. The woman became increasingly …

Smith, Lavenski Roy

Lavenski Roy Smith, the son of a black county farm agent at Hope (Hempstead County), became a justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court at age forty-one and became the second African American to serve on the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, the second-highest level of courts in the country, as well as the first to serve as chief justice. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2003. Lavenski Smith was born on October 31, 1958, to Cayce B. Smith and Olee M. Smith at Hope. He began school in still racially segregated schools, but the city’s schools soon integrated under court orders. He graduated from Hope High School, the school from which future Arkansas governor …

Smith, Leroy (Lynching of)

On May 11, 1921, fourteen-year-old Leroy Smith was hanged at McGehee (Desha County) for allegedly attacking J. P. Sims and Arabella Bond as they drove along a road between McGehee and Arkansas City (Desha County). It is one of many accounts of alleged roadside attacks, some of which are referred to in historian Kristina DuRocher’s book, Raising Racists. Although early reports, including the one in the Arkansas Gazette, indicated that the name of the lynching victim was unknown, an article in the St. Louis Argus identified him as Leroy Smith, a teenager from Lake Providence, Louisiana, which is about sixty miles from McGehee. The 1920 census lists a teenager named “Lawyer” Smith, born around 1908, living in Police Jury Ward …

Smith, Less (Lynching of)

On December 9, 1922, an African-American man named Less Smith was lynched in Morrilton (Conway County) for the alleged murder of deputy sheriff Granville Edward Farish. Farish had been in Conway County since at least 1900, when he was twelve years old and living in Welborn Township with his parents, Columbus and Bell Farish. At the age of seventeen, he married sixteen-year-old Carrie Spears in Morrilton. Carrie might have died, because in 1909 he married a woman named Myrtle, and in 1910 they were living and farming in Welborn Township. In 1920, he and Myrtle were living in Welborn Township with their children Thetus (age eight), Cessna (age seven), Harrell (age five), Janie (age three), and Dorothy (age one). As …

Smith, Ray Sammons, Jr.

Ray Sammons Smith Jr. was a lawyer and politician from Hot Springs (Garland County) who spent twenty-eight years as a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives and rose to be speaker of the House and majority leader, despite a political bent that often put him at odds with the prevailing political sentiments of the state and his own community. For example, when the legislature and Governor Orval E. Faubus began to enact legislation early in 1957 to deter or limit school integration, Smith was often one of the few votes in either house against any of the bills. When the legislature in August 1958, shortly before school opening, passed a bill written by Attorney General Bruce Bennett and supported …

Smith, Walter (Reported Lynching of)

In many cases of reported lynchings, newspapers in other states received initial reports by wire from local newspapers and then failed to include updates on these first stories. Such was the case with the alleged lynching of twenty-four-year-old Walter Smith in Cabot (Lonoke County) in May 1892. In Smith’s case, even the Arkansas Gazette failed to update its story on a rumored lynching. The first news of Smith’s alleged crime appeared in the Arkansas Democrat on May 23, 1892. Smith, an African American, had reportedly attacked a white woman in Cabot a week earlier. After committing “his heinous crime,” he escaped. Police wired a description of “the brute” to officials in the area, and he was found on May 22 …

Smith, William Jennings (Bill)

William Jennings (Bill) Smith was a lawyer and civic leader in Little Rock (Pulaski County) whose close association with five governors gave him great influence over the state’s public affairs for forty years, including the desegregation of Central High School and its aftermath. He served briefly as a justice on the Arkansas Supreme Court upon the resignation of Justice Minor W. Millwee in the fall of 1958. Smith became the managing partner of the law firm that he had joined in 1946 and developed it into the state’s largest law firm, known at that time as Mehaffy, Smith and Williams. In 2022, the firm, still the state’s largest, was Friday, Eldredge and Clark. Bill Smith was born on October 14, …

Smithee-Adams Duel

What has often been described as “the last duel fought in Arkansas” was an exchange of gunshots in the streets of Little Rock (Pulaski County) between James Newton (J. N.) Smithee and John D. Adams on May 5, 1878. This event was also an early episode in the long newspaper war conducted between the Arkansas Gazette (then the Daily Arkansas Gazette) and the Arkansas Democrat. Adams became owner, with William D. Blocher, of the Gazette on November 11, 1876. They hired James Mitchell to be editor-in-chief of the newspaper; Mitchell had been a professor of English literature at Arkansas Industrial University, now the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). Smithee competed with the Gazette by purchasing the printing …

Snell, Richard Wayne

Richard Wayne Snell—a member of a number of white supremacy groups, including the Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord (CSA), which was founded in 1971 in Elijah, Missouri, by polygamist James Ellison—was also reported to be a member of the Aryan Nation. In addition, there are unsubstantiated reports connecting Snell to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh; perhaps not coincidentally, McVeigh’s act of domestic terrorism occurred only hours before Snell’s execution for two murders he had committed in the 1980s. Richard Wayne Snell was born in Iowa on May 21, 1930, to Charles Edwin Snell and Mary Jane Snell. Snell’s father was a pastor of the Church of Nazarene, and Snell himself trained in the ministry but did …

Solomon, David

David Solomon practiced law for seventy-five years in the riverside city of Helena-West Helena (Phillips County), where for more than a century after the Civil War he and other Solomons were patriarchs of a large Jewish community that played a major role in the city’s and county’s rise as a cultural and economic center of the Mid-South. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Solomon practiced alone until shortly before his hundredth birthday, representing, among others, poor African Americans and whites, often free of charge. He held every position in the Arkansas Bar Association except president, which he declined. In 1975, Governor David H. Pryor appointed Solomon to the Arkansas Highway Commission. David Solomon was born on July 19, 1916, in …

Southern Arkansas Race Riots of Late 1896

During November and December 1896, there were three separate racial incidents on job sites in and around El Dorado (Union County). In mid-November 1896, there was a “race war” between white and black workers at Hawthorne Mills, twelve miles southwest of El Dorado. On Tuesday, December 1, 1896, five African-American section men who were working on the line of the Cotton Belt Railroad between Camden (Ouachita County) and Bearden (Ouachita County) were killed by a group of unidentified men. In late December, near McNeil (Columbia County), approximately twenty African Americans were shot when white men raided a sawmill. This was part of a widespread pattern of intimidation of black laborers in southern Arkansas in the 1890s, a practice that seems to …

Spence, Helen

Helen Ruth Spence of Arkansas County was a famous outlaw and prisoner whose story captured the imaginations of many during her life and engendered a body of legend afterward. She was the focus of unprecedented media coverage in her day, up until her death at the hands of Arkansas prison officials. The July 12, 1934, issues of the Washington Post and New York Times published accounts of Spence’s death on the previous day. The date of her birth aboard a houseboat on the White River near St. Charles (Arkansas County) was listed by the funeral home as February 23, 1912. Arkansas’s houseboat-dwelling “river rats” were eventually expelled from the area as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tamed the White …

Springer, Andrew (Lynching of)

Andrew Springer, a white man, was lynched in Powhatan (Lawrence County) on May 21, 1887. His is the only lynching recorded as happening in Lawrence County and occurred during a decade when whites and African Americans were lynched in relatively equal numbers. That would change the following decade as lynching violence became more exclusively anti-black. The lynching of Springer became the subject of the October “Ghost Walk” held at the Powhatan Historic State Park each year and is a significant component of local folklore. The event was mentioned by newspapers as far away as Perth, Australia. The exact identity of Springer remains a mystery. Some newspapers reported that he was originally from Cook County, Illinois, but the four possible matches …

St. Charles Lynching of 1904

Over the course of four days in the first week of spring 1904, a succession of white mobs terrorized the black population of St. Charles (Arkansas County). They murdered thirteen black males in this town of about 500. Given the death toll, it was one of the deadliest lynchings in American history. The murderers were never identified in either public reports or eyewitness accounts, and the scant surviving evidence in newspapers and manuscripts lists only the victims, not the killers or their possible motives. On Monday, March 21, on the dock at the White River crossing in St. Charles, Jim Searcy, a white man, argued over a game of chance with a black man named Griffin, with whom he was …

Starr, Belle

aka: Myra Maybelle Shirley
In the late 1800s, Belle Starr was known as a notorious female outlaw in America’s “Old West.” As a resident of Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, she came under the jurisdiction of Judge Isaac C. Parker in Fort Smith (Sebastian County). Her close friends included the legendary American outlaws Cole Younger and Frank and Jesse James. Her reputation as an outlaw, the novelty of being a woman outlaw, and her violent, mysterious death led to her being called “The Bandit Queen.” Belle Starr was born Myra Maybelle Shirley near Carthage, Missouri, on February 5, 1848. Her father was John R. Shirley, a farmer who later owned a local inn. Her mother, twenty years younger than her husband, was Elizabeth (Eliza) Hatfield …

State of Arkansas v. Artoria Smith

aka: Arkansas v. Smith (2015)
State of Arkansas v. Artoria Smith is a decision of the Pulaski County Circuit Court written by Judge Herbert T. Wright Jr. and filed on January 20, 2015. The decision declared unconstitutional Arkansas’s failure-to-vacate statute—a statute that criminalizes failure to pay rent while remaining on the premises (an act that no other state criminalizes). Three other circuit courts in Arkansas followed suit in declaring the statute unconstitutional. The parties in Arkansas v. Smith stipulated to several facts. Smith and her landlord, Primo Novero, had a lease agreement in 2014. On July 9, 2014, Novero gave Smith ten days’ notice under Arkansas’s failure-to-vacate statute, claiming she had breached the lease. Under the statute, a tenant who remains on the premises more …

State of Arkansas v. Tee Davis

State of Arkansas v. Tee Davis was a criminal lawsuit in the Crittenden County Circuit Court in September 1943 that resulted in the conviction of African-American sharecropper and Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union (STFU) member Tee Davis for assault with intent to kill. Davis was at home in Edmondson (Crittenden County) on March 22 with his wife, Elizabeth, when an intruder began pounding on the door demanding that Davis come outside. Fearing for his safety, Davis armed himself with a shotgun and fired two blasts through the door. The intruder was later revealed to be Edmondson business owner and town marshal Harold E. Weaver. Two Crittenden County deputy sheriffs had enlisted Weaver to help them perform warrantless searches of sharecropper cabins …

State v. Buzzard

State v. Buzzard (1842) was a case in the first half of the nineteenth century involving the right of an individual to carry a concealed weapon. The case came two decades after an 1822 Kentucky case that struck down a state law that restricted concealed weapons—although the weapon at issue there was a sword concealed in a cane. Ultimately, given the facts in Buzzard, coupled with the language of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the case has come to be recognized as one of the earliest examinations of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. The case was heard by the original three members of the Arkansas Supreme Court—Chief Justice Daniel Ringo and Associate Justices Townsend Dickinson and …

Stewart, Charles (Lynching of)

Charles Stewart, a white man, was lynched in Perryville (Perry County) on May 17, 1892, after killing Deputy Sheriff Tom Holmes in a failed attempt to escape jail. This was the only recorded lynching in Perry County. Given the absence of enumeration sheets for the 1890 census, determining the identity of Charles Stewart is difficult. However, there was a Charley Straut living in neighboring Yell County in 1880; his age was given as six years old (making him about eighteen in 1892, when the crime and lyching took place). Reports on the lynching present little biographical information. According to the Arkansas Gazette, Stewart had been jailed in Perryville “for attempted outrage on the 11-year-old daughter of J. W. Guin, and …

Streetcar Segregation Act of 1903

The Streetcar Segregation Act, adopted by the Arkansas legislature in 1903, assigned African-American and white passengers to “separate but equal” sections of streetcars. The act led to boycotts of streetcar service in three Arkansas cities. The Streetcar Segregation Act (Act 104), introduced by Representative Reid Gantt of Hot Springs (Garland County) and modeled after legislation in Virginia and Georgia, was a more moderate version of earlier segregationist legislation. The act did not require separate coaches for black and white passengers but rather required segregated portions of streetcar coaches with separate but equal services. On March 10, 1903, black leaders assembled at the First Baptist Church in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and demanded the halt of legislative efforts aimed at segregating …

Stroud, John Fred, Jr.

John Fred Stroud Jr. spent most of his long career practicing law in Texarkana (Miller County) but also spent ten years on the appellate bench—nine on the Arkansas Court of Appeals and one as a justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court. He led the effort in 2000 to reorganize and reform the state’s judicial system and also spearheaded efforts for two decades to conserve the state’s waters and stabilize its streams. He worked for, befriended, or advised a number of Arkansas’s most notable politicians and jurists of the era, including U.S. senators John L. McClellan and David H. Pryor, Governors Bill Clinton and Jim Guy Tucker, federal judges Richard S. Arnold and Morris S. “Buzz” Arnold of the U.S. Eighth …

Stuttgart Lynching of 1916

An unidentified African-American man was taken from the jail in DeWitt (Arkansas County) and lynched in Stuttgart (Arkansas County) on August 9, 1916, for having allegedly attacked a sixteen-year-old white girl. This was the first of two lynchings to occur in Arkansas County that year—on October 8, 1916, Frank Dodd was also taken from the jail at DeWitt, though he was lynched in town. According to the Arkansas Gazette, on Monday, August 7, the unidentified man—described only as “about 25 years old and unknown here”—attacked the sixteen-year-old daughter of farmer Ernest Wittman in a field south of Stuttgart. The narrative is vague, indicating that the unknown man was arrested after having been attacked and wounded by a posse; he was subsequently …

Sullivan, Walter (Lynching of)

On October 1, 1902, a young African American named Walter Sullivan was murdered in Portland (Ashley County) for allegedly shooting a prominent merchant. In the 1900 census, there was a fifteen-year-old youth named Walter Sullivan living in Bonita, Louisiana, on the Wilmot Highway just south of the Arkansas line. He was living with his parents, Daniel and Malindy Sullivan, and two brothers, Vigil (age eighteen) and Cud (eight). Although newspaper accounts refer to Mr. Roddy as either D. D. Roddy or D. J. Roddy, he was probably William D. Roddy, a fifty-three-year-old widower who was a merchant in Portland in 1900. Roddy may have formerly been a farmer in Drew County, as a farmer of the same name and age …