Entry Category: Race

Union County Lynching of 1873

In the spring of 1873, four unidentified African Americans were reportedly murdered by other black residents in Union County in response to a hideous attack they allegedly committed on a white woman. Newspapers across the nation printed the report, based on a letter written by county resident Thomas Warren to a friend in Clay County, Missouri. In 1870, Warren, a native of Missouri, was a farm laborer living near Van Buren (Crawford County) with his wife and two children. Warren reported that in mid-March 1873, a pregnant married woman in Union County started off on horseback to stay with a neighbor for several days. When she arrived at the neighbor’s house, no one was there, and she started to ride …

United States v. Waddell et al.

United States v. Waddell et al. is a U.S. Supreme Court case that arose from an 1883 incident of nightriding (sometimes called whitecapping) in Van Buren County, in which a group of armed white men attempted to drive off a black homesteader. The case centered upon the question of whether or not an individual, having settled upon a piece of property for purposes of obtaining a federal homestead, enjoyed the protection of the federal government in attempting to exercise his rights in the face of conspiracies to intimidate. On December 13, 1882, Burrell Lindsay, an African American, made a homestead entry for a tract of land in Bradley Township in southeastern Van Buren County. On the night of January 10, …

Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA)

Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) was an ambitious organization of people of African descent worldwide in the late 1910s and 1920s. The movement built upon Back-to-Africa movements of the late 1800s, which encouraged people of color to look to Africa both as an ancestral homeland and a hope for a future. The association’s founder, Jamaican-born Garvey, had come to the United States in 1916, and he took advantage of a wave of racial violence following the end of World War I to mobilize African Americans to eschew integration for black nationalist goals. The message of racial pride, separation from white society, and emigration to the African continent distinguished the UNIA from other civil rights movements of the period. …

Urban League

The Urban League of Greater Little Rock (ULGLR) was an affiliate of the New York–based National Urban League (NUL), which was founded in 1910. Like its parent organization, the ULGLR focused on the problems of African-American urban life in areas such as social work, education, health, and employment opportunities. The NUL under the leadership of Whitney Young was considered one of the “big six” civil rights organizations of the 1960s. On February 20, 1937, an interracial group of twenty-five people gathered in the Lena Latkin Room of the Little Rock Public Library to meet with Jessie Thomas, Southern Regional Field Director of the National Urban League, to organize an Urban League branch in the city. The prime mover behind the …

Van Buren Schools, Desegregation of

The desegregation of Van Buren (Crawford County) schools produced several national headlines and is one of Arkansas’s most intriguing episodes of compliance with—and defiance against—the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas school desegregation decision. In 1954, the Van Buren School District had 2,634 white students and eighty-seven African-American students. Black students attended a segregated elementary school, and after graduation they were bussed over the Arkansas River to the segregated Lincoln High School of Fort Smith (Sebastian County). After Brown, with assistance from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), nineteen parents sued for the entry of twenty-four black students into Van Buren’s white high school, the first case of its kind …

Wainwright, Larry (Murder of)

The 1967 murder of Larry Wainwright, an African-American teenager, near his home in the black neighborhood of Morning Star rocked the city of El Dorado (Union County) and remains an important civil rights–era cold case. This was not the first time Morning Star had been subjected to racist violence. Whites would regularly drive through the neighborhood and throw bottles or bricks at the black men, women, and children, seriously injuring them. Wainwright’s parents, Melvin and Louise Wainwright, and the African American community of Morning Star mourned the loss but also rallied in the wake of Wainwright’s death, ensuring that the murder was publicized beyond Union County and El Dorado. Although national attention was lacking, newspapers such as the Northwest Arkansas …

Wair, Thelma Jean Mothershed

Thelma Jean Mothershed Wair made history as a member of the Little Rock Nine, the African-American students involved in the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in 1957. The world watched as they braved constant intimidation and threats from those who opposed desegregation of the formerly all-white high school. Mothershed was a junior when she entered Central. Despite the fact that she had a cardiac condition since birth, she had a near perfect record for attendance. Thelma Mothershed was born on November 29, 1940, in Bloomberg, Texas, to Arlevis Leander Mothershed and Hosanna Claire Moore Mothershed. Her father was a psychiatric aide at the Veterans Hospital, and her mother was a homemaker. She has three sisters and two brothers. …

Walker, William “Sonny”

William “Sonny” Walker was an educator and civil rights activist who went on to serve in positions in local, state, and federal government, becoming the first person of color to serve in the cabinet of a southern governor. Sonny Walker was born on December 13, 1933, in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). His parents were the Reverend James David Walker and Mary Coleman Walker; they later divorced, and his father married Nettie Harris. Early influences in his life included the Boy Scouts of America, gospel choir, drama and speech organizations, and community education through social and sports activities at Merrill High School; Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical, and Normal College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff); and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. …

Walnut Ridge Race War of 1912

The Walnut Ridge Race War of 1912 was an instance of violent nightriding (also known as whitecapping) in which a group of white vigilantes attempted to drive African Americans from the city of Walnut Ridge (Lawrence County). They did not succeed in making Walnut Ridge an all-white town, but they did manage to drive black laborers from certain local industries, which was often the aim of nightriders, who were frequently poor whites who wanted those jobs for themselves. In early April 1912, notices signed “Kit Karson and Band” were posted in Walnut Ridge ordering local African Americans to leave the city. A committee of white citizens responded to this threat by posting their own warnings to the band in question, …

Ware, Ed

Ed Ware was one of twelve African-American men accused of murder following the Elaine Massacre of 1919. After brief trials, the so-called Elaine Twelve—six who became known as the Moore defendants and six who became known as the Ware defendants (so called using Ed Ware’s name)—were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Ultimately, the Ware defendants were freed by the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1923; after numerous legal efforts, the Moore defendants were released in 1925. Ed Ware was born in Mississippi on March 7, 1882, to William Ware and Ann Ware. He moved to Arkansas City (Desha County) around 1910. Ed Ware was employed as a farmhand in the region. On September 12, 1918, he registered for …

Ware, Jim and Jack (Lynching of)

On July 14, 1895, brothers Jim and Jack Ware, who allegedly assisted Wiley Bunn in the murder of Allen Martin, were lynched in Hampton (Calhoun County). The Ware family had been living in Calhoun County for some time. In 1870, Moses and Easter Ware were living in Jackson Township. Among their children were two sons, fifteen-year-old James (Jim) Ware and thirteen-year-old Jack. Moses and James Ware were working as laborers. They were still in Jackson Township in 1880. Jack, along with James and James’s wife, Susan, were still living with their parents. Moses was farming, and both James and John were working as laborers. In 1880, fourteen-year-old Willey (Wiley) Bunn was living in Jackson Township with his parents, Drew and …

Warren, Nathan

Nathan Warren was one of the few free black businessmen in antebellum Arkansas, as well as a noted musician and the founder of the state’s first African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) congregation. Nathan Warren was born into slavery in 1812 in Versailles, Kentucky, on the Crittenden Plantation. John Crittenden, brother of Robert Crittenden (and later Kentucky governor, U.S. congressman, and U.S. attorney general), was likely Warren’s father. Robert Crittenden brought Warren to Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1819, around the time Crittenden was appointed by President James Monroe as the first secretary of the Arkansas Territory. Crittenden and Warren lived at the present-day site of the Albert Pike Hotel on 7th Street, between Scott and Cumberland streets, in a large …

Warren, Will (Lynching of)

Will Warren, an African-American man, was murdered in rural Garland County on January 15, 1916, as the result of an apparent quarrel with some young white boys. After murdering Warren, a white mob burned down his house and a local black church. Warren is described in newspaper reports as being one of the leading figures in a black settlement located between Buckville (Garland County) and Cedar Glades (Garland County). Determining the exact identity of Warren is difficult, as no report on his murder includes his age, occupation, or other identifiers. However, there was a Willie Warren, then nineteen years old, listed on the 1910 census in neighboring Montgomery County working as a farm laborer. Willie Warren lived in Fir Township, …

Washington, George (Lynching of)

In the spring of 1871, an African American named George Washington was lynched in Baxter County for allegedly assaulting a young girl. The girl’s father is variously referred to as James or George Calvin, with the surname sometimes given as Galvin. He lived on the White River south of Mountain Home (Baxter County). Public records reveal nothing about these people. The 1870 census lists no adult George or James Calvin or Galvin in Baxter County, or even in the state of Arkansas. The same is true in neighboring counties in Missouri. There was also no African American named George Washington listed in Baxter County. In his account of the lynching, Vincent Anderson quotes an article from the Baxter County Citizen, …

Watson, Hattie Rutherford

aka: Harriet Louise Gertrude Rutherford Watson
Harriet Louise Gertrude (Hattie) Rutherford Watson was an educator, librarian, and prominent member of the social and education communities in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). She and her husband, John Brown Watson, were activists for the African-American community during the early twentieth century. Hattie Rutherford was born November 23, 1885, in Rome, Georgia, as part of the black elite in the post-bellum era. She was the elder daughter of Samuel W. and Mary Anne Lemon Rutherford. Her father founded the National Benefit Life Insurance Company in 1898. Rutherford acquired an elementary education in the public schools of Atlanta and a high school diploma at Spelman Seminary. She completed her college work at Spelman College and was the only graduate from that …

West, John (Lynching of)

On July 28, 1922, a laborer named John West was shot to death near Guernsey (Hempstead County) after an argument at a work site over a shared drinking cup. The Arkansas Gazette gives the cause for the lynching as “impudence.” According to the Gazette, on the morning of July 28, John West, an African American recently arrived from Kansas, was working on a paving gang in Hope (Hempstead County). He had an argument with the foreman on the job, Andrew Worthing, another Kansan, who was white. According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal and the Bisbee (Arizona) Daily Review, the argument concerned West’s attempt to use the crew’s common drinking cup. When challenged by Worthing, West declared that “he was as …

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, Samuel Woodrow

Samuel Woodrow Williams was an African-American Baptist minister, college professor, and civil rights activist who had a major impact on race relations in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, from the mid-to-late 1950s until his sudden death in October 1970. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2009. Samuel Woodrow Williams was born on February 20, 1912, in Sparkman (Dallas County), the oldest of the eight children of Arthur Williams and Annie Willie Butler Williams. As a child, he enjoyed hunting, fishing, and playing baseball and basketball, but nothing gave him as much pleasure as reading; over his lifetime, he amassed a collection of more than 1,000 volumes. Lessons about racism came early for Williams. Before he …

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 …

Wilson, Alexander (Lynching of)

On October 20, 1919, an African-American man named Alexander (Alex) Wilson was lynched near Marianna (Lee County) for allegedly murdering Ruth Murrah (identified in many newspaper articles as Rosa or Rose), who was about nineteen years old. Wilson had attacked Ruth, who was killed, and a relative named Estelle, who escaped. There was a Murrah family in Lee County as early as 1880. Charles Murrah was working as a farm laborer in Bear Creek Township and living with his wife, Celia, and their one-year-old daughter, Mary. A family member (probably a daughter) named Clara Belle, age fourteen, married thirty-one-year-old William Clifton in August 1893. By 1900 Murrah, age fifty-four, owned his own farm in Bear Creek Township. Also in the …

Wilson, Tom (Lynching of)

In late February 1884, Tom (sometimes referred to as Thomas) Wilson, an African-American man, was lynched near Conway (Faulkner County) for allegedly attempting to assault a woman identified only as Mrs. Griffy. Several other newspaper accounts identify her husband as William Griffy. No further information is available on either Wilson or the Griffy family in Faulkner County. According to a report published in the Arkansas Gazette on February 21, the lynching had occurred “several days since.” According to the Gazette and several other national newspapers, including the Little Falls Transcript, William Griffy was away from his farm overnight when Wilson entered the house and attempted to assault Mrs. Griffy. She screamed and attacked him with a fire shovel, whereupon he …

Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools (WEC)

The Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools (WEC) was formed on September 12, 1958, to combat the governor’s closing of Little Rock (Pulaski County) high schools. The first meeting of the organization was held on September 16. During the summer after the 1957 desegregation crisis at Central High School in Little Rock, Governor Orval Faubus invoked a recently passed state law and closed the schools to prevent further desegregation. The WEC became the first organization to publicly support reopening the schools under the district’s desegregation plan. It remained active until 1963. Forty-eight women met in September 1958 in the antebellum home of Adolphine Fletcher Terry, the widow of U.S. Congressman David D. Terry and a local activist for libraries, …

Wordlaw, William

William Wordlaw (sometimes spelled Wardlow or Wordlow) was one of twelve men arrested and charged with murder following the events of the Elaine Massacre of 1919. After brief trials, the so-called Elaine Twelve—six who became known as the Moore defendants and six (including Wordlaw) who became known as the Ware defendants—were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Ultimately, the Ware defendants were freed by the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1923; after numerous legal efforts, the Moore defendants were freed in 1925. William Wordlaw was born to sharecroppers Edd and Georgia Wordlaw on August 19, 1897, in Pontotoc, Mississippi. William and his six siblings grew up helping their parents farm the land. According to his draft registration documents, he …

Young, Rufus King

Rufus King Young was an influential church and civil rights leader in Arkansas in the second half of the twentieth century. As the leader of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Little Rock (Pulaski County), he was actively involved in the local civil rights movement and the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Rufus King Young was born on May 13, 1911, to Robert Young and Laura Scott Young in Bayou Bartholomew (Drew County). He received his early education at Young’s Chapel AME Church, an institution built on land originally owned by his grandfather, before graduating in 1933 from Chicot County Training School in Dermott (Chicot County). He continued his education at Shorter College in North …