Entries - Entry Category: Race

Slater, Philip (Lynching of)

On March 22, 1921, fifty-year-old Philip Slater was hanged on the public square in Monticello (Drew County) for allegedly assaulting a white woman in nearby Wilmar (Drew County). Philip Slater was one of many African Americans who worked in Drew County’s timber industry, the largest industry in the county in 1920. According to the 1920 census, Slater and his wife, Jimmie, were boarding with Addie Green on Buber Street in Wilmar. Both Philip and Jimmie could read and write, and he was working as a laborer in a lumber mill. This may have been the large Gates Lumber Company, which was located in Wilmar. Slater was reportedly fifty years old when he was murdered. According to the Arkansas Gazette, on …

Slave Codes

Slave codes were the legal codification of rules regulating slavery. These official parameters for slavery were enacted in every colony or state that condoned the institution. Even before Arkansas was a recognized territory, slave codes existed in the region. Adopted by the French in 1724, the Code Noir, or Black Code, set the legal structure of slavery in Louisiana during the French and Spanish periods. The Code Noir was a comprehensive and detailed policy that set forth guidelines for almost every facet of slavery. The initial laws were partly designed to set limits upon slave owners and convey certain responsibilities to the masters regarding their slaves, including setting minimal standards for food, clothing and shelter, long-term care of sick or …

Slave Literacy

The ability of enslaved people in Arkansas to read and/or write presented one of the significant power struggles within the system of slavery because it concerned access to information, communication among enslaved people, and the opportunity for interpretation of texts like the Bible (considered a subversive activity). For antebellum Arkansans, literacy also signified personal improvement—something that slavery was understood to deny African Americans. While a fortunate few became literate, most enslaved people could not read or write. Literacy, however, was among the most important goals that freed people pursued upon emancipation. Although Arkansas law never specifically prohibited it, slaveholders generally prevented enslaved people from learning to read or write. Those who did learn had plenty of incentive to conceal their …

Slave Resistance

Enslaved people in Arkansas resisted dehumanization, demands on their labor, and limits on their activity in a variety of ways, ranging from indirect (often referred to as “passive”) to direct, even violent. Many factors—such as gender, age, location, and personality—determined slaves’ resistance strategies. Enslaved people also met with varying levels of circumscription within the system of slavery, causing them to push back against that regime in very different ways. While there is not enough evidence to determine for certain exactly how resistance strategies may have varied between slaves on Arkansas’s smaller holdings and those who resided on the state’s large plantations, it is reasonable to assume that the size of the slave-holding had some effect on resistance. For example, farm …

Slavery

American chattel slavery was a unique institution that emerged in the English colonies in America in the seventeenth century. Enslaved peoples were held involuntarily as property by slave owners who controlled their labor and freedom. By the eighteenth century, slavery had assumed racial tones as white colonists had come to consider only Africans who had been brought to the Americas as peoples who could be enslaved. Invariably, the earliest white settlers who moved into Arkansas brought slave property with them to work the area’s rich lands, and slavery became an integral part of local life. Slaves played a major role in the economic growth of the territory and state. Their presence contributed to the peculiar formation of local culture and …

Smith (Lynching of)

In August 1882, an African-American man known only as Smith in published newspaper reports became the second man ever to be lynched in Pulaski County, according to available records. Jim Sanders had been lynched earlier that year in the county. In part because the victim was named only as “Smith” in published accounts, little information can be gleaned regarding his actual identity. Nothing was reported of the event in the Arkansas Gazette, and most reports that circulated nationally fell along the lines of this bare-bones account published in the Highland Weekly News of Highland County, Ohio: “Smith, who assaulted a white lady near Little Rock, Arkansas, was lynched by a disguised party who shot him to death.” The National Republican …

Smith, Leroy (Lynching of)

On May 11, 1921, fourteen-year-old Leroy Smith was hanged at McGehee (Desha County) for allegedly attacking J. P. Sims and Arabella Bond as they drove along a road between McGehee and Arkansas City (Desha County). It is one of many accounts of alleged roadside attacks, some of which are referred to in historian Kristina DuRocher’s book, Raising Racists. Although early reports, including the one in the Arkansas Gazette, indicated that the name of the lynching victim was unknown, an article in the St. Louis Argus identified him as Leroy Smith, a teenager from Lake Providence, Louisiana, which is about sixty miles from McGehee. The 1920 census lists a teenager named “Lawyer” Smith, born around 1908, living in Police Jury Ward …

Smith, Less (Lynching of)

On December 9, 1922, an African-American man named Less Smith was lynched in Morrilton (Conway County) for the alleged murder of deputy sheriff Granville Edward Farish. Farish had been in Conway County since at least 1900, when he was twelve years old and living in Welborn Township with his parents, Columbus and Bell Farish. At the age of seventeen, he married sixteen-year-old Carrie Spears in Morrilton. Carrie might have died, because in 1909 he married a woman named Myrtle, and in 1910 they were living and farming in Welborn Township. In 1920, he and Myrtle were living in Welborn Township with their children Thetus (age eight), Cessna (age seven), Harrell (age five), Janie (age three), and Dorothy (age one). As …

Southern Arkansas Race Riots of Late 1896

During November and December 1896, there were three separate racial incidents on job sites in and around El Dorado (Union County). In mid-November 1896, there was a “race war” between white and black workers at Hawthorne Mills, twelve miles southwest of El Dorado. On Tuesday, December 1, 1896, five African-American section men who were working on the line of the Cotton Belt Railroad between Camden (Ouachita County) and Bearden (Ouachita County) were killed by a group of unidentified men. In late December, near McNeil (Columbia County), approximately twenty African Americans were shot when white men raided a sawmill. This was part of a widespread pattern of intimidation of black laborers in southern Arkansas in the 1890s, a practice that seems to …

Southland College

Southland College emerged out of a Civil War–era mission by Indiana Quakers who came to Helena (Phillips County) in 1864 to care for lost and abandoned black children. Its founders, Alida and Calvin Clark, were abolitionist members of the Religious Society of Friends who arrived in Arkansas to render temporary relief to displaced orphans. They stayed for the remainder of their working lives, establishing the school that became the first institution of higher education for African Americans west of the Mississippi River. The school survived six decades of economic adversity and social strife. After operating an orphanage and school in Helena for two years, in 1866, the Clarks, with the vital assistance of the officers and men of the Fifty-sixth …

St. Charles Lynching of 1904

Over the course of four days in the first week of spring 1904, a succession of white mobs terrorized the black population of St. Charles (Arkansas County). They murdered thirteen black males in this town of about 500. Given the death toll, it may have been the deadliest lynching in American history. The murderers were never identified in either public reports or eyewitness accounts, and the scant surviving evidence in newspapers and manuscripts lists only the victims, not the killers or their possible motives. On Monday, March 21, on the dock at the White River crossing in St. Charles, Jim Searcy, a white man, argued over a game of chance with a black man named Griffin, with whom he was …

Stone County Lynching of 1898

A possible lynching occurred in rural Stone County in March 1898. While state and national reports differ as to the likely fate of the victim, both confirm that the unnamed “negro boy” in question was repeatedly tortured by a mob. On March 18, 1898, the Kansas City Journal reported, under the headline “Arkansas Negro Boy Lynched,” the following: “A negro boy whose name cannot be learned was lynched at Marcella, in Stone County, Tuesday night March 15. He was accused of stealing $20 from the cash drawer of a store. The mob strung him up three times in an effort to make him confess and finally left him on the ground in a dying condition.” The Arkansas Gazette contains a …

Stop This Outrageous Purge (STOP)

A hastily formed organization created during the “Lost Year” of 1958–59—in which Little Rock (Pulaski County) public schools were closed in the wake of the desegregation crisis at Little Rock Central High School—Stop This Outrageous Purge (STOP) emerged as a powerful local counterweight to segregationists. The group successfully challenged the dominance of segregationists on the Little Rock School Board, and their efforts marked a turning point in the city’s desegregation controversy. In September 1958, citing the recent passage of state laws designed to avoid further integration, Governor Orval Faubus closed Little Rock’s four high schools: Central High, Hall High, Little Rock Technical High, and Horace Mann. Black and white students were thus denied public education for an entire school year. …

Streetcar Segregation Act of 1903

The Streetcar Segregation Act, adopted by the Arkansas legislature in 1903, assigned African-American and white passengers to “separate but equal” sections of streetcars. The act led to boycotts of streetcar service in three Arkansas cities. The Streetcar Segregation Act (Act 104), introduced by Representative Reid Gantt of Hot Springs (Garland County) and modeled after legislation in Virginia and Georgia, was a more moderate version of earlier segregationist legislation. The act did not require separate coaches for black and white passengers but rather required segregated portions of streetcar coaches with separate but equal services. On March 10, 1903, black leaders assembled at the First Baptist Church in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and demanded the halt of legislative efforts aimed at segregating …

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was one of the most radical civil rights organizations operating in the South in the 1960s. Composed largely of young people, the organization advocated group-centered leadership as opposed to the more hierarchical structure favored by groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). SNCC members participated in various protest activities designed to dismantle segregation and to increase African-American voter registration. Activists moved to the communities they sought to serve, living among local black residents and attempting to identify and empower local leaders. The group sponsored major projects in four Southern states, including Arkansas. SNCC came to Arkansas in 1962 at the behest …

Students United for Rights and Equality (SURE)

Students United for Rights and Equality (SURE) was a student civil rights organization at Southern State College (SSC) in Magnolia (Columbia County), now Southern Arkansas University (SAU). College authorities disbanded the group in 1969. The U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that action in an important case upholding First Amendment rights of campus organizations and students. SURE was founded by black and white students on October 28, 1968, as an act of racial solidarity. Ernest Pickings, an African American, served as president. By design, black and white students shared other offices. The organization quickly grew to become one of the campus’s largest, with about as many white as black members. Controversy began in December 1968 when SURE sent a …

Stuttgart Lynching of 1916

An unidentified African-American man was taken from the jail in DeWitt (Arkansas County) and lynched in Stuttgart (Arkansas County) on August 9, 1916, for having allegedly attacked a sixteen-year-old white girl. This was the first of two lynchings to occur in Arkansas County that year—on October 8, 1916, Frank Dodd was also taken from the jail at DeWitt, though he was lynched in town. According to the Arkansas Gazette, on Monday, August 7, the unidentified man—described only as “about 25 years old and unknown here”—attacked the sixteen-year-old daughter of farmer Ernest Wittman in a field south of Stuttgart. The narrative is vague, indicating that the unknown man was arrested after having been attacked and wounded by a posse; he was subsequently …

Sullivan, Walter (Lynching of)

On October 1, 1902, a young African American named Walter Sullivan was murdered in Portland (Ashley County) for allegedly shooting a prominent merchant. In the 1900 census, there was a fifteen-year-old youth named Walter Sullivan living in Bonita, Louisiana, on the Wilmot Highway just south of the Arkansas line. He was living with his parents, Daniel and Malindy Sullivan, and two brothers, Vigil (age eighteen) and Cud (eight). Although newspaper accounts refer to Mr. Roddy as either D. D. Roddy or D. J. Roddy, he was probably William D. Roddy, a fifty-three-year-old widower who was a merchant in Portland in 1900. Roddy may have formerly been a farmer in Drew County, as a farmer of the same name and age …

Sundown Towns

aka: Racial Cleansing
Between 1890 and 1968, thousands of towns across the United States drove out their black populations or took steps to forbid African Americans from living in them. Thus were created “sundown towns,” so named because many marked their city limits with signs typically reading, “Nigger, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On You In Alix”—an Arkansas town in Franklin County that had such a sign around 1970. By 1970, when sundown towns were at their peak, more than half of all incorporated communities outside the traditional South probably excluded African Americans, including probably more than a hundred towns in the northwestern two-thirds of Arkansas. White residents of the traditional South rarely engaged in the practice; they kept African Americans down …

Supreme Royal Circle of Friends of the World

aka: Royal Circle of Friends
The Supreme Royal Circle of Friends of the World, also known as the Royal Circle of Friends (RCF), was an African-American fraternal organization founded in 1909 in Helena (Phillips County). The organization was founded to supply insurance to the African-American population but was also dedicated to the moral, physical, social, and economic welfare of its members. Men and women were equal members. From the beginning, the RCF grew rapidly across the Southern states and soon spread across the nation. In 1944, the membership was quoted by a Chicago, Illinois, newspaper as being in excess of 100,000. Dr. Richard A. Williams was the founding Supreme President and held that position until his death in 1944. Williams was born in Forrest City …

Sutton, Ozell

One of the most important Arkansas political activists at the height of the civil rights struggle during the 1950s and 1960s, Ozell Sutton was a key player at many of the movement’s most critical moments—both in the state and throughout the South. He was present at such watershed events as the 1957 Central High School desegregation crisis and the 1965 march at Selma, Alabama. In April 1968, Sutton was with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when King was murdered on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was also a trailblazer in Arkansas race relations, becoming the first black newspaper reporter to work for a white-owned newspaper when he went to work in 1950 as a staff …

Taylor Sisters (Lynching of)

Two African-American women known only as the Taylor sisters were killed on Sunday, March 17, 1907, in McKamie (Lafayette County) while they were detained on charges of murderous assault against Ella Roton and her married daughter, Nora Ogelsby. According to some counts, there were only eight women ever lynched in Arkansas, all of them African American, and so this case constitutes a quarter of all such murders in the state. According to the Arkansas Gazette, the two sisters were aged twenty and fifteen. The likeliest pair of women in the area are sisters Suffronia and Lela Taylor, born in 1885 and 1890, respectively. They appear on the 1900 census, living in Steele Township, but not thereafter. The Roton family (the …

Taylor, George Edwin

George Edwin Taylor was a native of Arkansas and the first African-American standard-bearer of a national political party to run for the office of president of the United States. George Edwin Taylor was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on August 4, 1857, to Bryant (Nathan) Taylor, a slave, and Amanda Hines, a “free Negro” woman; he had eleven siblings, none of whom are known by name. Nothing is known about his parents, except Amanda Hines was forced to leave Arkansas in 1859 in compliance with the state’s Free Negro Expulsion Act, signed into law on February 12, 1859. She fled with infant Taylor to Alton, Illinois, a major center of the Underground Railroad. Little is known about Taylor’s time …

Terry, Adolphine Fletcher

Adolphine Fletcher Terry was a civic-minded woman from a prominent Little Rock (Pulaski County) family who used her position to improve schools and libraries, start a juvenile court system, provide affordable housing, promote the education of women and women’s rights, and challenge the racism of the Old South. Terry pushed for social change in the early years of the civil rights movement and may best be known as the leader of the Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools (WEC). Adolphine Fletcher was born on November 3, 1882, in Little Rock to John Gould Fletcher and Adolphine Krause Fletcher. Her father worked in the cotton business and in banking and served terms as sheriff of Pulaski County and city mayor. …

Thomas, Jefferson Allison

Jefferson Allison Thomas made history as a member of the Little Rock Nine, the nine African-American students who desegregated 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. Jefferson Thomas was born the youngest of seven children on September 19, 1942, in Little Rock to Mr. and Mrs. Ellis Thomas. Thomas was a track athlete at all-black Horace Mann High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County) when he chose to volunteer to integrate all-white Central High School for the 1957–58 school year as a sophomore. The Nine were harassed daily by some white students, and Thomas’s quiet demeanor made him a …

Thomas, Wade (Lynching of)

On December 26, 1920, a gambler and petty thief named Wade Thomas was lynched in Jonesboro (Craighead County) for the alleged shooting of Elmer “Snookums” Ragland, a white police officer. Thomas, also known as “Boll Weevil,” was a Jonesboro native but had recently returned from “up North.” According to the Arkansas Gazette, he was known as a “‘bad’ and impudent negro,” who had formerly served time in the Arkansas penitentiary for highway robbery. According to Jonesboro historian Lee A. Dew, Thomas made his living by playing craps and engaging in petty thievery. Dew recounts that Ragland had arrived in Jonesboro from Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) not long before he was killed. The Gazette reported that he was an “efficient and …

Thompson, Alex (Lynching of)

On April 23, 1903, a young African-American man named Alex Thompson was hanged in Gurdon (Clark County) for allegedly attacking a local doctor (named Cuffman) with a knife. There is no record of a man named Alex Thompson living in Clark County during this period. The 1900 census, however, does list a doctor named Cuffman who was living there. He is listed in the census as George A. Cuffman, but subsequent marriage and census records indicate that he was probably John Henry Cuffman. At the time of the census, he was thirty-six, single, and living in a boarding house. Later that year, on June 28, he married Mary Euella Littlejohn in Gurdon. The Arkansas Gazette reported that trouble had been …

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 …

Thurman, Sue Bailey

Author, lecturer, historian, and editor Sue Bailey Thurman was a pioneer in civil rights and equality long before the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Her contributions in her advocacy, writings, and speeches helped lay a foundation that many others have built upon. Sue Elvie Bailey was born in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) on August 26, 1903, one of ten children of educators Rev. Isaac Bailey and Susie Ford Bailey. Her parents emphasized education, religious instruction, and missionary work. They helped to found the forerunner of what became Morris Booker Memorial College in Dermott (Chicot County), a private college funded by African-American Baptists throughout the state. She completed her high school studies at Spellman College in Atlanta, Georgia, …

Toll (Lynching of)

The only documented lynching recorded in Saline County occurred on October 23, 1854, when a slave known only as “Toll” was murdered by a mob. He was hanged on a hill near the second Saline County Courthouse in Benton. Recent scholarship has argued that the Toll lynching was not a spontaneous event but was instead an organized act of vengeance. The man known as Toll—spelled “Tol” in the Arkansas Gazette—was a slave owned by Scottish-born Samuel McMorrin, who, at the time, was living in Fourche Township in Pulaski County. Reportedly, in 1853, Toll sneaked up on and shot two white men, Jessup McHenry and John Douglas, who were deer hunting about fifteen miles outside of Little Rock (Pulaski County). Toll …

Trail of Tears

“Trail of Tears” has come to describe the journey of Native Americans forced to leave their ancestral homes in the Southeast and move to the new Indian Territory defined as “west of Arkansas,” in present-day Oklahoma. Through coerced or fraudulent treaties, Indians had been given the choice of submitting to state jurisdiction as individuals or moving west to preserve their sovereign tribal governments. The metaphoric trail is not one distinct road, but a web of routes and rivers traveled in the 1830s by organized tribal groups from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee. All of these trails passed through Arkansas. During the decade after passage of the federal Indian Removal Act in 1830, an estimated 60,000 Indians, African …

Treaty of Council Oaks

On June 24, 1823, Acting Governor Robert Crittenden of Arkansas Territory met with a group of Arkansas Cherokee; the place of their meeting been described in many sources on the south side of the Arkansas River  in the vicinity of modern Dardanelle (Yell County), though this is debatable, as the agent for the Cherokee, Edward W. DuVal, was likely headquartered north of the river, the land south of the river having been reserved for the Choctaw. The leaders present included John Jolly (who was likely the most influential member of the group and would soon be elected principal chief of the Arkansas Cherokee), Black Fox, Wat Webber, Waterminnow, Young Glass, Thomas Graves, and George Morris. Each group came to the meeting with …

Trickey, Minnijean Brown

Minnijean Brown Trickey made history as one of the Little Rock Nine, the nine African-American students who desegregated 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. Minnijean Brown, the eldest of four children of Willie and Imogene Brown, was born on September 11, 1941, in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Her mother was a homemaker and nurse’s aid during the crisis, and her father was an independent mason and landscaping contractor. She is the sister of the late Bobby Brown, who was the president of Black United Youth (BUY) in Arkansas in the late 1960s. Although all of the Nine experienced …

Tuggle, Browning (Lynching of)

Twenty-eight-year-old jitney (vehicle for hire) driver Browning Tuggle was lynched in Hope (Hempstead County) on March 15, 1921, for allegedly attacking a white woman. According to the 1910 U.S. census, Tuggle, then eighteen, was living in Hope with his widowed mother, Minnie. Both were native Arkansans. At the time, Tuggle was working in a factory as a handle grinder. On February 26, 1919, Tuggle married Alice Harris. At the time of the 1920 census, they were living in Hope with their daughter, Vadaleen. Both Browning and Alice could read and write. He was working as a jitney driver, and she was a washerwoman. On March 14, 1921, an unidentified middle-aged white woman arrived in Hope to visit her daughter, who …

Turner, William (Lynching of)

Nineteen-year-old William Turner was lynched in Helena (Phillips County) on November 18, 1921, for allegedly attacking a young white girl. According to newspaper accounts, it was the first lynching in Helena. Early on the morning of November 18, Turner allegedly attacked a teenaged girl as she was walking to her job at the telephone exchange. He was arrested and placed in the jail, which adjoined the courthouse. According to the Arkansas Gazette, local citizens, in a state of “suppressed excitement,” began to gather near the courthouse during the afternoon. In an attempt to protect Turner from harm, two deputy sheriffs put him into a car shortly after dark to take him to jail in nearby Marianna (Lee County). They were …

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 …

Union County Lynching of 1904

Three people were lynched in the Union County community of Mount Holly on August 30, 1904. These include one white man known only as Stover (or Stowers), a black man sometimes identified as Smead Stith, and a black woman identified only as Bates. There was a black man named Smead Stith living in Union County during the 1900 census. He was aged nineteen and working as a farm laborer. Two white men, Charley and Jessie Stover, father and son, are recorded as living in Claiborne Parish, Louisiana, on the same census, both working as farmers. There are a number of possibilities for the identity of Bates in both southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana. The Osceola Times covered the situation more …

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, John Winfred

John Winfred Walker was a lawyer who emerged from segregated schools and society in southwestern Arkansas to wage a sixty-year war on discrimination in Arkansas’s education systems, public institutions, and workforce. Walker’s name became synonymous with civil rights in Arkansas after the initial legal battle from 1957 to 1959 to desegregate Central High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Once out of Yale University’s law school in 1964, Walker took over the long-running school-integration lawsuit in Little Rock and also filed scores of lawsuits in federal courts to force recalcitrant school districts across Arkansas to put black and white children in the same classrooms or coequal learning environments. Other suits by Walker and his young partners in one of the …

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, …