Political Issues and Controversies

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Entry Category: Political Issues and Controversies - Starting with B

Back-to-Africa Movement

The Back-to-Africa Movement mobilized thousands of African-American Arkansans who wished to leave the state for the Republic of Liberia in the late 1800s. Approximately 650 emigrants left from Arkansas, more than from any other American state, in the 1880s and 1890s, the last phase of organized group migration of black Americans to Liberia. As early as 1820, black Americans had begun to return to their ancestral homeland through the auspices of the American Colonization Society (ACS), an organization headquartered in Washington DC, which arranged transportation and settlement. The ACS founded the Republic of Liberia in 1847, with its flag and constitution emulating American models, and nearly 13,000 redeemed slaves and free blacks had settled there before the Civil War. With …

Benson, George Stuart

George Stuart Benson was the second president of Harding College (now Harding University) in Searcy (White County), but he is most remembered as a crusader against communism. He founded the National Education Program (NEP) at Harding to advocate for American values and the free enterprise system. George Benson, son of Stuart Felix Benson and Erma Rogers Benson, was born on his parents’ small Oklahoma farm in Dewey County on September 26, 1898. He attended several elementary and secondary schools in the area and then attended classes at Oklahoma A&M until transferring to Harper College in Harper, Kansas. In 1924, Harper College merged with Arkansas Christian College in Morrilton (Conway County) to form Harding College, a private school associated with the …

Big Lake Wars

Competition and contention over an abundant (and unregulated) storehouse of northeastern Arkansas wildlife from the mid-1870s until 1915 led to violence and controversy known as the Big Lake Wars. Big Lake refers to a section of western Mississippi County created by the massive New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811–1812. “War” may be a misleading description of the events because there were no formalities, declarations, truces, or settlements. However, the conflict had a lasting impact on the state and even on the nation. The Big Lake Wars pitted local residents, who were mostly poor, against affluent northerners, chiefly from St. Louis, Missouri. Early Arkansas maps labeled the sparsely populated area between Crowley’s Ridge and the Mississippi River as “the Great Swamp.” After …

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 …

Blue Laws

Arkansas’s first blue laws, also called Sunday-closing laws, were enacted in 1837, only a year after Arkansas’s statehood. Though no blue laws have been in effect since 1982, they influenced the state’s culture and commerce for nearly a century and a half. Blue laws have been part of American history since people began emigrating from Europe, where the laws were common. Virginia established the first blue law in the American colonies in 1610. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbidding the establishment of religion may have called into question the legality of Sunday-closing laws, but it did not stop nearly all states from adopting them. Historically, courts have ruled that state legislatures could proclaim a weekly day of rest …

Boodle Prosecutions

aka: Boodle Scandal of 1905–1908
The Boodle Scandal of 1905–1908 dealt with pervasive bribery (“boodle” is a slang term for bribe money) in the 1905 Arkansas General Assembly uncovered by Lewis Rhoton, prosecuting attorney for the Sixth Judicial District (Pulaski and Perry counties). Rhoton’s unmasking of legislators’ corruption in Arkansas in these years advanced the rise of Progressivism as a political force. When President Theodore Roosevelt visited Little Rock (Pulaski County) on October 25, 1905, he praised Rhoton’s effort to hold public officials to account. The president also decried difficulties in prosecuting the wealthy or influential, including difficulties created by the legal system itself. Problems with Arkansas’s law and judicial procedures were partly at fault for Rhoton’s lack of widespread success in proceeding against boodlers. …

Bracero Program

To ensure that U.S. farmers had sufficient labor, the U.S. State Department and the Mexican Foreign Affairs Department signed a bilateral agreement to create the Bracero Program in August 1942. Preceded by the similar Emergency Farm Labor Program, it aimed to supply landowners with laborers so they could meet increased wartime demand for their crops. Under the terms of the agreement, workers were contracted for a period of no more than ninety days, and they could reenlist in the program each year. The program was administered by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and hiring agents in cities such as Tijuana, Guadalajara, Chihuahua, Monterrey, and Mexico City. The majority of braceros worked in the West—primarily California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Texas, and …

Brooks-Baxter War

The Brooks-Baxter War, which occurred during April and May 1874, was an armed conflict between the supporters of two rivals for the governorship—Joseph Brooks and Elisha Baxter. The violence spilled out of Little Rock (Pulaski County) into much of the state and was resolved only when the federal government intervened. The result of the war, recognition of Elisha Baxter as the governor, brought a practical end to Republican rule in the state and thus ended the era of Reconstruction. Questions concerning the results of the state’s 1872 gubernatorial election brought about the Brooks-Baxter War. In that election, Joseph Brooks—a carpetbagger with a radical reputation and the leader of the party faction known as the “Brindletails”—ran as a Reform Republican, supporting …