Modern Era

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Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission

The Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission was created by Act 1216 of 1993. It is an offshoot of the Martin Luther King Federal Holiday Commission and was established under Governor Bill Clinton by an executive order to promote the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The purpose of the commission is to promote racial harmony, understanding, community service, respect, and goodwill among citizens, and an awareness and appreciation of the civil rights movement; to advocate the principles and the legacy of Dr. King; and to develop, coordinate, and advise the governor and Arkansas General Assembly of ceremonies and activities throughout the state relating to the observance of Dr. King’s holiday. The commission receives funding from state general revenue, …

Black Americans for Democracy (BAD)

aka: Students Taking a New Direction (STAND)
aka: Black Students Association (University of Arkansas, Fayetteville)
The Black Americans for Democracy (BAD) was a group organized by African-American students at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) to provide a united voice seeking to change discriminatory practices on campus. The campus was officially integrated in 1948 when Silas Hunt enrolled in the University of Arkansas School of Law. However, two decades after integration, the black student population was still small, and black faculty and staff even fewer. In April 1968, after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the black students on campus formed BAD to advocate for themselves. The organization exists today as the Black Students Association. BAD’s first public action took place the month after King’s assassination. The student newspaper, the …

Black Power Movement

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) worker Willie Ricks coined the “black power” slogan in June 1966 during the March Against Fear in Mississippi. The term was subsequently popularized by national SNCC chair Stokely Carmichael. Those who used the slogan often left its precise meaning deliberately ambiguous. In general terms, the black power movement is usually taken to mark a shift in emphasis from the earlier civil rights movement by advocating black separatism and black nationalism over inter-racialism and racial integration, and by advocating armed black self-defense over a strict adherence to nonviolence. More recently, historians have questioned just how dramatic a break the black power era represented from the civil rights era. Instead, they have noted that many of the …

Blytheville Boycotts of 1970–1971

In the opening months of 1970, a group of African Americans in their mid-twenties sought to bring the social and cultural changes they had seen evolving in other parts of the world to Blytheville (Mississippi County). A graduate of Harrison High School (Blytheville’s black school), Bob Broadwater helped this group establish a chapter of the Black United Youth (BUY). The first public effort of this fledgling civil rights organization occurred soon after a local white grocer, Ernest Ray, beat a nine-year-old black boy with a crowbar for allegedly shoplifting. Ray’s grocery store was a fixture in the Elm Street commercial district. His store had a reputation for selling out-of-date meats and vegetables well past their prime. During a meeting in …

Brown, Evangeline Katherine

Evangeline Katherine Johnson Brown was a longtime educator and activist in the Arkansas Delta who served as a plaintiff and witness in Jeffers v. Clinton, a lawsuit that helped create new majority black districts for the Arkansas House of Representatives and the Arkansas Senate. She was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1994. Evangeline Katherine Johnson was born in Norwood, East Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, on February 23, 1909, the fourth child of James M. Johnson and Mamie C. Gilmore Johnson. Her father was a farmer who owned the family’s farm (with a mortgage). It was fairly uncommon for area families to own their farms at that time. The family frequently moved, and Johnson attended high schools in …

Cleaver, Leroy Eldridge

Leroy Eldridge Cleaver was one of the best-known and most recognizable symbols of African-American rebellion in the 1960s as a leader of the Black Panther Party. In the 1970s, he became a born-again Christian and later an active member of the Republican Party. Eldridge Cleaver was born on August 31, 1935, in Wabbaseka (Jefferson County). His father, Leroy Cleaver, was a nightclub entertainer and waiter; his mother, Thelma Hattie Robinson Cleaver, taught elementary school. Many accounts portray Leroy Cleaver as a violent man who beat his wife. Eldridge Cleaver recalled those beatings as the beginning of his “ambition to grow up tall and strong, like my daddy, but bigger and stronger than he, so I could beat him to the …

Cuban Refugee Crisis

Arkansas played a part in the international drama of 1980, when 125,000 Cubans left their homeland for a new life in the United States. Roughly 25,000 of these Cuban refugees—called Marielitos because they had departed Cuba from the port of Mariel—were housed for a time at Fort Chaffee in Sebastian County. Their presence in Arkansas created social and political tension widely thought to have had an impact on the Arkansas governor’s race of 1980. Cuba and the Boatlift The crisis of 1980 began April 11 of that year, when Hector Sanyustiz, accompanied by five friends, drove a Havana city bus through a gate onto the grounds of the Peruvian Embassy to Cuba. The six intended to seek political asylum. By …

Earle Race Riot of 1970

The Earle Race Riot of 1970 broke out in the late evening of September 10 and continued into the early hours of September 11, 1970. The violence erupted when a group of whites armed with guns and clubs attacked a group of unarmed African Americans who were marching to the Earle (Crittenden County) city hall to protest segregated conditions in the town’s school system. Five African Americans were wounded, including two women who were shot (one seriously), but survived. Among the wounded were the Reverend Ezra Greer, who was a civil rights activist, and his wife, Jackie Greer. Both of the Greers were running for elected office in Earle. Earle’s black residents had been advocating for racial justice in the …

Gregory, Dick (Arrest of)

In February 1964, African-American satirist Dick Gregory was jailed in the Jefferson County Jail in Pine Bluff for attempting to eat at a segregated restaurant. Gregory, an internationally celebrated entertainer who rose to prominence in the 1960s, was also actively engaged in the civil rights movement. He was arrested a number of times in demonstrations and protests, although his arrest in Arkansas has been much less publicized. The events leading to Gregory’s arrest began on Sunday night, February 16, 1964, when he was in Pine Bluff talking to members of the Pine Bluff Movement, a local organization affiliated with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). SNCC had established a foothold in Arkansas in October 1962 when it sent white civil …

Hispanic Women’s Organization of Arkansas (HWOA)

The Hispanic Women’s Organization of Arkansas (HWOA) is a non-profit organization founded in July 1999 by a group of women, mostly Hispanic, concerned with the well-being of their families and their community. HWOA engages in activities that reflect the mission “to advance educational opportunities for Hispanic women and their families, to celebrate and teach others about our culture, and to become active participants in the community.” Through programs and events, the organization strives to increase participation by Hispanics in community activities, opening channels for better understanding across cultures and bringing the diverse northwest Arkansas community together. HWOA arose in Springdale (Washington County) out of the need of the founding members to have a support system in their new adopted community. …

Hutton, Bobby James

At the age of sixteen, Robert James (Bobby) Hutton was the first recruit of the Black Panther Party. He participated in the march on the California State Capitol in 1967, and his death in 1968 became a rallying cry for the Black Panther movement. A literacy campaign was later started in his honor. Bobby Hutton was born on April 21, 1950, in Jefferson County, the son of John D. Hutton and Dolly Mae Mitchner-Hutton. He was among the youngest of several siblings. The family lived in the Pot Liquor area of Jefferson County. In 1953, when he was about three years old, his family moved to Oakland, California, after being visited by nightriders. In December 1966, Hutton was the first …

Jackson, Gertrude Newsome

Gertrude Newsome Jackson was a local activist in the Marvell (Phillips County) area who, along with her husband, Earlis, played a central role in the local civil rights movement. She has been widely recognized for her long-term efforts on behalf of the community’s young people and its minority members. Gertrude Newsome was born on November 7, 1923, in Madison, Illinois, to Mitchell and Lillie Newsome. When she was seven, her paternal grandfather died, and the family moved to Gum Bottom, an area in Phillips County, Arkansas, near the Turner community, so that her father could help operate the family’s small Arkansas Delta farm. One of eleven children—six boys and five girls—she got her early education in Marvell, walking miles to …

Little Rock School Desegregation Cases (1982–2014)

aka: Little Rock School District, et al v. Pulaski County Special School District et al.
From 1982 until 2014, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Western Division, handled Little Rock School District, et al. v. Pulaski County Special School District et al. At least six federal district judges presided over the case during this span of time. In 1984, the district court ruled that three school districts situated in Pulaski County were unconstitutionally segregated: the Little Rock School District (LRSD), the Pulaski County Special School District (PCSSD), and the North Little Rock School District (NLRSD). One reason for the ruling was that the population of Little Rock was approximately sixty-five percent white in 1984, while seventy percent of Little Rock School District students were black. Those who brought the case feared …

Little Rock Uprising of 1968

What became known as the Little Rock Uprising of 1968 was triggered by the controversial killing of inmate Curtis Ingram at the Pulaski County Penal Farm. A subsequent community rally protesting the circumstances surrounding the killing and its investigation ended in violence. Three nights of unrest followed until Governor Winthrop Rockefeller imposed countywide curfews that finally brought the crisis to an end. The events ultimately led to changes in the previously discriminatory way that grand juries—which provided oversight for investigations at the penal farm—had been selected in Pulaski County. In August 1968, eighteen-year-old Curtis Ingram, who was African American, was arrested for a traffic violation and later charged with drug offenses. He was sent to the penal farm to pay …

March Against Fear (1969)

aka: Walk Against Fear (1969)
For four days between August 20 and 24, 1969, Lance Watson (alias Sweet Willie Wine), leader of Memphis, Tennessee, black power group the Invaders, led what he called a walk against fear across eastern Arkansas. The walk became an iconic episode in the state’s civil rights history and the stuff of local folklore. The protest inspired an award-winning long-form poem by Arkansas native C. D. Wright, One with Others [a little book of her days], in 2010, a testimony to how long the episode has lingered in the collective memory. Born and raised in Memphis, Watson joined the U.S. Army at seventeen. After receiving a discharge, he fell into a life of crime, which led to two stretches in jail. …

McIntosh, Robert “Say”

Robert “Say” McIntosh is a restaurant owner, political activist, and community organizer distinctly tied to the Little Rock (Pulaski County) area and Arkansas politics. A political gadfly during the 1980s and 1990s, McIntosh was responsible for many political protests that were statewide news during the time. Say McIntosh was born in 1943 in Osceola (Mississippi County), the fifth of eleven children. In 1949, he and his family moved to the Granite Mountain area of Little Rock. McIntosh attended Horace Mann High School but dropped out in the tenth grade. He spent much of his early life learning the restaurant business, which led him to establish his own eatery, serving home-style cooking and his famous sweet potato pie. “The Sweet Potato …

Pike, Annie Zachary

Annie Zachary Pike is a farmer and community activist from Phillips County who became the first African-American appointee to a state board and was later appointed to a variety of federal organizations by President Richard M. Nixon. Annie Ruth Davidson was born on May 12, 1931, in Big Creek in Phillips County to Mississippi-born farmer Cedel Davidson and native Arkansan Carrie Washington Davidson. She was first educated at Trenton Elementary School in Trenton (Phillips County). Later, she attended the Consolidated White River Academy (CWRA), a co-educational boarding school founded in Monroe County by black Baptists in 1893. While at CWRA in the mid-to-late 1940s, Davidson was class secretary and president. She also played baseball and basketball and was a member …

Roaf, Andree Yvonne Layton

Andree Yvonne Layton Roaf was an Arkansas attorney and jurist. A 1996 inductee to the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, Roaf distinguished herself in the fields of biology, law, and community service. Andree Layton was born on March 31, 1941, in Nashville, Tennessee. The daughter of William W. Layton, a government official, and Phoebe A. Layton, an educator, she grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and in White Hall and Muskegon Heights, Michigan. She had two sisters. She graduated from high school in Muskegon in 1958. Originally intending to pursue a career in the biological sciences, she attended Michigan State University and received a BS in zoology in 1962. While an undergraduate, she met, and subsequently married in July 1963, another …

Thompson, Roosevelt Levander

Roosevelt Levander Thompson was a very accomplished Arkansan who achieved many things during his short lifetime and is recognized as one of the most gifted people to have attended Yale University. Roosevelt Thompson was born on January 28, 1962, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to the Reverend C. R. Thompson and Dorothy L. Thompson. He attended Little Rock Central High School and participated in many of Central’s activities. During his freshman year, he decided he wanted to pursue a career in public service. By his junior year, his teachers were already talking to him about becoming a Rhodes Scholar. He was involved in school plays, the school newspaper, and various academic groups, and he was named the All-Star player on …

White Revolution

Headquartered in Mountain View (Stone County), White Revolution was a neo-Nazi group founded by Arkansas native Billy Roper in 2002. Roper copyrighted the name White Revolution and set up a website and forum for members to exchange ideas, post events, and build an online community. Although not an indicator of total group membership, on March 17, 2011, the White Revolution forum had more than 1,200 participants. Before the election of Barack Obama as U.S. president in 2008, the forum hovered at around 300. Roper encouraged members of his group to contribute to the forum and use other social networking media to promote the organization and recruit members. The anti-Semitic organization promoted the interests of whites over other ethnic/racial groups, recruited racially aware …

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 …