Political Issues and Controversies

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Elaine Massacre of 1919

aka: Elaine Race Riot of 1919
aka: Elaine Race Massacre
The Elaine Massacre was by far the deadliest racial confrontation in Arkansas history and possibly the bloodiest racial conflict in the history of the United States. While its deepest roots lay in the state’s commitment to white supremacy, the events in Elaine (Phillips County) stemmed from tense race relations and growing concerns about labor unions. A shooting incident that occurred at a meeting of the Progressive Farmers and Household Union escalated into mob violence on the part of the white people in Elaine and surrounding areas. Although the exact number is unknown, estimates of the number of African Americans killed by whites range into the hundreds; five white people lost their lives. The conflict began on the night of September 30, 1919, …

Election Fraud

Questionable balloting procedures and fraudulent vote counts began early in Arkansas’s political history and were a regular component of the state’s politics, especially in rural areas, until about 1970. The state’s tradition of one-party rule in which consequential elections were decided in party primaries, the absence of unbiased political information in the form of independent newspapers, and a traditionalistic political culture in which the activities of the ruling elite were generally unquestioned by the masses all contributed to an environment in which fraud—fundamentally problematic for a representative democracy—could persist. Such fraudulent behavior in Arkansas had its roots in the politics of “The Family,” the Democratic regime that controlled the state’s politics in the period following statehood. This Johnson-Conway-Sevier-Rector cousinhood accumulated …

Election Law of 1891

The passage of the Election Law of 1891 was essential to the solidification of power in the state for Democrats during the post-Reconstruction era and was the first step in making Arkansas a one-party state. In conjunction with the subsequent Poll Tax Amendment, controversially passed during the 1892 general election, the Election Law of 1891 effectively disfranchised African Americans in Arkansas and legally suppressed Republican and third-party political opposition. By 1888, Democratic Party officials in Arkansas were expressing concern about perceived election fraud in the state and the threat of federal oversight of state elections. Evidence of widespread election fraud and the highly publicized murder of Republican candidate John M. Clayton brought about mounting calls for election reform legislation. After much …

Emancipation

By 1860, about twenty-five percent of Arkansas’s population was enslaved, amounting to more than 111,000 people. The emancipation of these people in Arkansas took place as a result of the American Civil War, their freedom achieved due to the decisions made by Union military leaders, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and the actions of the slaves themselves. Slavery’s abolishment meant more than simply the loss of human property and the end of a labor system—it ended a social relationship that had defined the state’s early development. The process of emancipation in Arkansas began before Lincoln’s formal Emancipation Proclamation. Finding that Confederates had used slave labor to create physical obstacles in his path across Arkansas in 1862, Union general Samuel R. …

Eminent Domain

The Arkansas and U.S. Constitutions permit the process of eminent domain, which is the taking of private property for public purposes as long as there is just compensation paid to the owner, legal authorization for the taking, and an observance of procedural due process. Eminent domain can be used to obtain property for public purposes such as improvement districts, electric power lines, natural-gas pipelines, irrigation and drainage companies, cemeteries, roadways, bridges, dams, and state colleges and universities. Interpretation of the term “public purpose” has produced much of the case law on eminent domain, including Pfeifer v. City of Little Rock, a 2001 Arkansas case, and Kelo v. City of New London, Connecticut, a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case; these cases …

England Food Riot of 1931

The England Food Riot of 1931 occurred after the drought of 1930 caused major crop failure across the region, leaving many farmers unable to feed their families. The Depression was occurring across America, and the majority of people in England (Lonoke County) and the surrounding area were destitute and desperate. As a result, approximately fifty angry farmers converged on the town of England, demanding food to feed to the starving members of their community. The crowd grew to include hundreds once in town, and the merchants, with assurances of repayment by the Red Cross, agreed to open their doors and offer all they had to avert any violence from the mob. The crowd dispersed peacefully, but the incident created a …