Political Issues and Controversies

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Commonwealth College

Arkansas’s most famous attempt at radical labor education was the accidental by-product of natural beauty, cheap land, and desperation. Commonwealth College was established in 1923 at Newllano Cooperative Colony near Leesville, Louisiana. Its founders were Kate Richards O’Hare, her husband Frank, and William E. Zeuch, all socialists and lifelong adherents of the principles established by Eugene V. Debs. Drawing on their mutual experience at Ruskin College in Florida, where they had been impressed with the possibility of higher education combined with cooperative community, the O’Hares and Zeuch decided to create a college specifically aimed at the leadership of what they designated as a new social class, the industrial worker. As an established cooperative community, Newllano appeared to be the ideal …

Convict Lease System

The convict lease system was a way of operating state prisons adopted by Arkansas in the mid-nineteenth century. The Arkansas system mirrored that of other Southern states during this period and reflected the desire to reduce the cost and administrative problems of the state’s prisons. While the system achieved its economic goals, it was typified by corruption and the abuse of prisoners, problems that ultimately brought about its abolition. In Arkansas, the convict lease system originated during the Reconstruction era when, in 1867, the state contracted with the firm of Hodges, Peay, and Ayliff to provide work for prisoners in the penitentiary at Little Rock (Pulaski County). The state agreed to pay the company thirty-five cents a day for the …

Conway-Crittenden Duel

aka: Crittenden-Conway Duel
In 1827, Henry Wharton Conway and Robert Crittenden, both important figures in territorial Arkansas, fought a duel that had profound implications for the course of Arkansas history. Conway, a former naval officer and governmental employee originally from Tennessee, had relocated to Arkansas for a governmental post and eventually sought political office in Arkansas. Crittenden, originally from Kentucky, also served in the armed forces and later held political positions in Arkansas; he was originally a political supporter of Conway. Both were young, professional, and successful in their own right, but a conflict ensued between the two during an Arkansas election campaign, leading Crittenden to challenge Conway to a duel. Conway and Crittenden were friends and had worked together in an official …

Crawford, Maud Robinson

Maud Robinson Crawford, a lawyer with the Gaughan, McClellan and Laney law firm in Camden (Ouachita County), mysteriously disappeared from her stately Colonial home on Saturday night, March 2, 1957, at age sixty-five. U.S. Senator John L. McClellan, a former partner in the law firm, was at the time of her disappearance the chairman of a high-profile Senate investigation into alleged mob ties to organized labor. The disappearance of Sen. McClellan’s former associate was international news, a first assumption being that she had been kidnapped by the Mafia to intimidate the senator. When no ransom note appeared, however, the theory was rejected by law enforcement. No body was ever found, and the case was never solved. Maud Robinson was born …

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 …

Democratic Party Caucuses of 1984

On March 17, 1984, the state Democratic Party initiated the formal process of delegate selection to the upcoming Democratic National Convention. Participatory caucuses convened in the state’s 767 precincts with the expectation that thirty-five of the forty-two delegates chosen would reflect, proportionally, the participants’ candidate preferences. Seven slots were reserved for super-delegates, elected officials, and party organization leaders. The state party organization had traditionally taken responsibility for convention delegate selection, but national party reforms had substantially altered delegate selection processes in the states by making them more open to participation by the party rank-and-file. In this spirit, the Arkansas Democratic Party conducted presidential preferential primaries in 1976 and 1980. Those contests attracted some 500,000 and 440,000 voters, respectively. In 1983, …

Dueling

Dueling was a popular means of settling disputes among the well-bred, higher-class population on the Arkansas frontier, and though it was considered part of the code of honor for a Southern gentleman, its popularity added to Arkansas’s reputation for violence that remained until well after the Civil War. An insult, real or imagined, likely would bring a challenge from the injured party. Duels traditionally took place at dawn to avoid interruptions, and the two parties usually met somewhere just outside the territory to get around the laws against dueling that were passed as early as the 1820s. Friends would accompany the combatants, acting as “seconds,” to see that things were carried out fairly. Seconds had to be of equal social …

DuMond, Wayne Eugene

aka: Wayne Dumond Affair
Wayne Eugene DuMond was a serial rapist and killer whose crimes and efforts to gain his freedom from prison vexed the political careers of three Arkansas governors: Bill Clinton, Jim Guy Tucker, and Mike Huckabee. Suspecting that DuMond might have been framed for the rape of a Forrest City (St. Francis County) woman because DuMond’s accuser was a distant cousin of Clinton, who was by then president of the United States, Governor Huckabee arranged his parole to Missouri in 1999. DuMond was convicted soon thereafter of the rape and murder of a Missouri woman and was suspected of raping and killing another woman. When Huckabee ran for president in 2007–08, DuMond’s parole and subsequent crimes became a major detriment because …

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 …

Factory System

aka: Indian Trading Posts
aka: Indian Factory System
The Indian factory system was a system of trading posts created by an act of Congress in 1795 with the express intention of developing and maintaining Native American friendship and allegiance through government control of trade on the frontiers of the new nation. Within the present borders of the state of Arkansas, three factories were established for this purpose: Arkansas Post (1805–1810), Spadra Bayou (1817–1822), and Sulphur Fork (1818–1822). The United States took formal possession of Arkansas Post (Arkansas County) from Spanish authorities on March 23, 1804. An Indian factory (or trading post) was established in October 1805 with James B. Treat as factor (or chief trader). Most of the trade was directed to the local Quapaw. However, prior to the establishment …

Featherstone v. Cate

In the Arkansas election of 1888, Agricultural Wheel members and other groups formed the Union Labor Party and allied with the Republicans to offer a serious challenge to the Democrats. In 1889, the Featherstone v. Cate congressional hearings resulted from allegations of election fraud in the race for U.S. representative from Arkansas’s First Congressional District, a district comprising seventeen eastern counties including Craighead, Crittenden, Cross, Lee, Phillips, and St. Francis. In 1888, the race for first district representative pitted Independent candidate Lewis P. Featherstone of Forrest City (St. Francis County) against Democratic judge William Henderson Cate of Jonesboro (Craighead County). Initially, the election results showed Cate the winner with 15,576 votes to Featherstone’s 14,238. In late November 1888, Featherstone, alleging fraud in Crittenden, Cross, Lee, …

Fort Smith Conference (1865)

As a diplomatic assembly of Native American delegates and U.S. government officials, the Fort Smith Conference of 1865 was designed to reestablish relations between the federal government and Native American tribes of Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) who had allied themselves with the Confederacy during the Civil War. Talks, which stretched from September 8 to September 23, 1865, informed tribal delegates that all pre-war treaty rights were forfeited upon taking up arms against the Union and that new treaties with the United States had to be negotiated. The Fort Smith Conference ultimately failed to achieve new treaties, as Native American delegates refused to consent to strict treaty stipulations and because factional squabbling between loyalist and secessionist Native Americans hampered negotiations. At …

Gay and Lesbian Movement

aka: LGBT Movement
The gay and lesbian movement in Arkansas has historically been represented by such legal organizations as Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), Lambda Legal, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which have worked to secure the rights of gay and lesbian people in the state. However, recent years have seen an increasing organization of gay and lesbian people in Arkansas, primarily in the emergence of student groups at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) and other institutions of higher education. Legal Issues and Context The first reference to homosexuality in the bound index to the now-defunct Arkansas Gazette is from October 1973, four years after the Stonewall Riots (the first “shot” fired in the Gay …

GI Revolt

The political reform movement known as the GI Revolt emerged during the county political campaigns of 1946. Typically associated with World War II veterans eager to bring change to their hometowns and the state of Arkansas, the movement actually was broader than just military service veterans and had a limited statewide impact. The term “GI” was shorthand for “Government Improvement” (a play on the term GI—General Issue, i.e., enlisted men—because many involved in the movement were returning GIs and officers), which had an identifiable organization in six counties: Cleveland, Crittenden, Garland, Montgomery, Pope, and Yell, as well as the city of Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). While government improvement citizen groups had organized before and continue to appear until the present, …

Grand Gulf Affair

Grand Gulf Nuclear Generating Station is the name of a nuclear-powered electricity-generating station at Port Gibson on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River downstream from Vicksburg, Mississippi. Issues surrounding the financing of this station convulsed politics in Arkansas for the last two decades of the twentieth century. Between 1985, when the power station began producing electricity, and 2012, customers of Entergy Arkansas, Inc., and its predecessor, Arkansas Power and Light (AP&L), had to pay $4.5 billion—about $6,500 per customer—to operate the Mississippi plant and subsidize Louisiana ratepayers under the terms of old agreements among the four utilities in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana owned by Middle South Utilities, a holding company based in New Orleans, Louisiana. The prospect of Arkansas’s …

Hackett, Nelson

Nelson Hackett was an Arkansas slave whose 1841 escape to Canada (then a colony of Great Britain) led to a campaign by his owner to have him extradited to the United States on charges of theft as a way of getting around the legal sanctuary that Canada provided to fugitive slaves. Hackett’s extradition aroused the ire of abolitionists on both sides of the border and ultimately resulted in a limitation of the 1842 Webster-Ashburton Treaty’s extradition provision. Nelson Hackett enters the historical record in June 1840 when he was acquired by Alfred Wallace, a wealthy Washington County plantation owner, storekeeper, and land speculator. Hackett was described as “a Negro dandy” of about thirty years of age. Slaves in the Arkansas …

Homelessness

Large numbers of homeless people live in Arkansas. Looking at data for people who received a funded service, emergency shelter, or transitional shelter from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Arkansas Management Information System found that 22,000 people were homeless at some point during 2006 in Arkansas. A statewide count on January 24, 2007, of people housed in shelters, along with an observational count on the streets and in camps, determined that 7,400 to 8,000 Arkansans are homeless on any given night. The Arkansas Homeless Coalition completed a survey in 2005 among the homeless who congregate under bridges and frequent the soup kitchens in the Little Rock (Pulaski County) area. One hundred survey responses documented that …

Hot Springs Shootout

aka: Hot Springs Gunfight
aka: Gunfight at Hot Springs
The Hot Springs Shootout, also known as the Hot Springs Gunfight or the Gunfight at Hot Springs, occurred on March 16, 1899. Sparked by a dispute over which agency would control gambling in Hot Springs (Garland County), this shootout between the Hot Springs Police Department and the Garland County Sheriff’s Office resulted in the deaths of five men. The shootout represented a continuation in the battle for control of gambling in Hot Springs and was preceded by the Flynn-Doran blood feud that lasted from 1884 until 1888. Frank Flynn controlled gambling in Hot Springs until former Confederate major Alexander Doran began opening gambling houses there in 1884. The first blood was drawn when Flynn challenged Doran to a duel. Flynn was …

Hurricane Katrina/Rita Evacuees

Following the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina in late August 2005, the evacuated population of New Orleans, Louisiana, was redistributed throughout America to forty-five states and the District of Columbia. As expected, states in the South took in more of the displaced than the rest of the country. An estimated eighty percent of Katrina evacuees temporarily relocated to Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, or Arkansas. Arkansas received approximately 75,000 evacuees, and Texas initially took in more than 250,000 at the Houston Astrodome, the Reliant Complex, the George R. Brown Convention Center, and other sites in southern Texas. However, no state experienced a population increase larger than Arkansas, whose population jumped 2.5 percent after the evacuees arrived. The first evacuees …

Immigration

The peopling of Arkansas has taken place since prehistoric times, beginning with the migration of early Native Americans thousands of years ago. Europeans began to settle the area shortly after the arrival of the early explorers, such as Hernando de Soto, Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet, and René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. Settlement took place largely as a result of gradual migrations into the state. Each new group helped define the cultural characteristics of Arkansas. White Immigration, 1820 to 1880Immigration into Arkansas between 1820 and 1880 was part of the general westward movement, a larger migratory process taking place in America. Some of the main reasons white people migrated to Arkansas were to seek adventure, to join family and …

Indian Removal

The evolving U.S. policy of Indian Removal shaped Arkansas geographically, economically, and ethnically. Federal removal treaties with the Choctaw in 1825 and the Arkansas Cherokee in 1828 established the state’s western boundary. Throughout the territorial period (1819–1836), Arkansas politicians were obsessed with removing Indians from the land within its shrinking borders, even the few destitute Quapaw for whom the state had been named. Yet, a cash-poor frontier economy profited enormously from government contracts when Southeast tribal groups were transported across Arkansas throughout the 1830s, along routes later collectively labeled “the Trail of Tears.” Still, the state’s political leaders complained loudly that the presence of sovereign tribes in neighboring Indian Territory stifled development in Arkansas and, especially after the United States expanded …

Interstate 630

Interstate 630 is an eight-mile-long east-west expressway running through the center of Little Rock (Pulaski County), connecting Interstates 30 (to the east) and 430 (to the west). It was constructed during a two-decade period beginning in the 1960s and is blamed for significant social alterations in the state’s capital city. The interstate originated with Little Rock city planner John Nolen’s work in the 1930s envisioning a cross-city expressway in Arkansas’s largest city. As the city’s population began moving to the west in the 1950s, interest grew in a highway that would provide easy access between the jobs and shopping based downtown and the homes to the city’s west. In 1958, Metroplan (the metropolitan area’s planning organization) released a tentative plan …

John Law’s Concession

aka: John Law's Colony
aka: Mississippi Bubble
John Law’s concession was established in August 1721 and was located at Little Prairie, just over twenty-six miles from the mouth of the Arkansas River, in present-day Arkansas County. The colony was located near the Quapaw city of Kappa. Its failure slowed the growth of Arkansas as a European colony, although settlers continued to live at Arkansas Post throughout the eighteenth century. By the summer of 1686, Arkansas Post was already an important French trading post between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Illinois, but no serious efforts were made to settle the land. The French government realized that, to compete with colonial Great Britain, it would need to establish profitable colonies. John Law, a Scotsman, was an economist and banker who …

Jones, Paula

aka: Paula Jones McFadden
Paula Jones is a one-time Arkansas government employee. Her lawsuit alleging sexual harassment by Governor Bill Clinton ultimately led to a landmark Supreme Court decision in Clinton v. Jones and subsequently to Clinton’s impeachment as president in 1998. Paula Rosalee Corbin was born on September 17, 1966, in Lonoke (Lonoke County) to Church of the Nazarene pastor Bobby Gene Corbin and his wife, Delmer Lee; she had two sisters. She was educated in Lonoke before graduating from high school in nearby Carlisle (Lonoke County). She later began working in the Arkansas government. It was while she was working for the state that the incident that would later bring her to national attention allegedly occurred. Jones’s lawsuit alleged that she was …

Labor Movement

Soon after Arkansas’s 1836 admission to the Union, wage workers in the state began uniting for their mutual economic and political benefit. Throughout the nineteenth century, these associations—commonly called trade unions—tended to be short lived and unstable, reflecting the dominance of agriculture in Arkansas’s economy. But in the twentieth century, as industry began gaining a toehold in the state, the labor movement began improving the lives of wage workers through collective bargaining and by securing passage of legislation in the interest of all workers. Although weak when compared with their counterparts in more industrialized states, Arkansas’s trade unions were at the forefront of every significant wave of reform in the state during the twentieth century—the Progressive Era, the New Deal, …

Little Rock Censor Board

aka: Little Rock Board of Censors
The Little Rock Censor Board operated in Arkansas’s capital city for nearly seventy years trying to regulate forms of entertainment—from literature to movies—to protect citizens from influences perceived to be immoral. As social mores changed and the legality of the board was challenged, it saw its influence diminish, until it quietly disbanded. In the early twentieth century, officials around the country attempted to censor salacious or obscene materials. For example, Memphis’s Board of Censors, created in 1911, was notorious for its harsh rulings, and Maryland established its censor board in 1916, which remained influential until its demise in 198l. The Little Rock Censor Board was created in 1911 by Mayor John S. Odom and the city council in response to …

Logan County Draft War

aka: Franklin County Draft War
The Logan County Draft War was an episode of armed draft resistance in Arkansas during World War I. Following on the heels of the more infamous Cleburne County Draft War, the Logan County incident—which actually took place predominately in Franklin County, and later in the wooded area near Mount Magazine—followed the familiar pattern of previous draft skirmishes in which a local posse encountered suspected draft evaders, resulting in a shootout, a death, and then a wider manhunt. On August 5, 1918, authorities from Ozark (Franklin County) assembled a posse of seven men led by a Constable Horton to investigate the farmhouse of J. H. Benson near Cecil (Franklin County). It is unclear from the sources whether this posse was formed …

Malaria Control Projects in Southeast Arkansas

Two malaria control demonstration projects in southeast Arkansas during the Progressive Era showed not only that the disease could be controlled, but also that control was economically feasible. The project in Crossett (Ashley County) targeted mosquito breeding sites, while the one in the Lake Village (Chicot County) area studied protection by mechanical means. Both were noteworthy successes, though local governments often failed to follow up on those successes. Malaria control was a logical extension of hookworm eradication projects sponsored by the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission for the Eradication of Hookworm Disease. In 1915, Dr. Wickliffe Rose, who headed the commission, said that “malaria was responsible for more sickness and death than all other diseases combined.” The disease sapped the vitality of …