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  • Bullets and Fire: Lynching and Authority in Arkansas, 1840-1950 ed. by Guy Lancaster
  • E. M. Beck
Bullets and Fire: Lynching and Authority in Arkansas, 1840-1950. Edited by Guy Lancaster. (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2018. Pp. viii, 344. Paper, $39.95, ISBN 978-1-68226-044-9.)

While this edited volume will appeal to devotees of Arkansas history, it would be a mistake to assume that its value is only to that audience. Editor Guy Lancaster, an award-winning historian, has written an impressive introduction and assembled ten well-written chapters, which cover most aspects of mob violence in the state as well as the Arkansas antilynching movement. In the introduction, Lancaster immediately wants the reader to know that he is conceptualizing lynching violence not as the work of isolated frenzied mobs, although there are examples of that, but as the extralegal arm of political control, of white supremacy. This important declaration sets the tone for the essays that follow.

Kelly Houston Jones's essay on the lynching of slaves, appropriately the first chapter of Bullets and Fire: Lynching and Authority in Arkansas, 1840-1950, sheds light on one of the lesser-known aspects of southern lynching history. Jones argues that so long as black people were enslaved there was an economic incentive against mob violence, except in the most unusual circumstances. After ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, however, that incentive was weakened.

Lynching in Arkansas in the postbellum period is tackled by Nancy Snell Griffith, who employs W. Fitzhugh Brundage's fourfold taxonomy of lynch mobs—private mobs, terrorist mobs, posses, and mass mobs—to describe Arkansas lynchings. Importantly, Griffith acknowledges that some black victims were murdered by black or mixed-race mobs, and that apparently the proportion of African Americans killed by black mobs was higher in Arkansas than in other southern states. Griffith notes that there is very little literature on this commonly overlooked phenomenon and that the topic deserves more attention. There is some published research in sociology on this topic that could have been incorporated into Griffith's essay.

Focusing on the decade of the 1890s, the zenith in southern lynching, Randy Finley draws attention to Arkansas's economic and political landscape as fertile ground for mob violence. Arguably, this chapter's most significant contribution lies in Finley's discussion of the role of newspapers in promoting or discouraging lynching. This important topic has also not received sufficient consideration, in my opinion. One does not have to read too many news accounts to appreciate how the choice of words framing the event, or its antecedents, could facilitate further violence.

Richard Buckelew, who is no stranger to investigating Arkansas lynchings, provides a detailed analysis of a single event: the lynching of Manse Castle, Dennis Ricord, Lorilla Weaver, Susie Jacobs, and Will Sanders in Clarendon, Monroe County, on August 9, 1898, for the murder of John T. Orr, a white businessman. This incident was no ordinary murder-lynching but one that involved an abused and disaffected wife, conspiracies, a voodoo conjurer, a mixed-race mob, a mass lynching, and a suicide. While this event was by no means typical—in fact, Arkansas had only one other lynching incident with five or more victims—Buckelew gives us a fascinating case study in the complexities that confounded some lynchings. Arkansas's second mass lynching is [End Page 157] the backdrop of Vincent Vinikas's essay, which wrestles with the sticky wicket of trying to give a precise conceptual and operational definition of what counts as a lynching. In late March 1904 there was a period of several days in which multiple black people were murdered in multiple incidents in the town of St. Charles. Vinikas challenges readers to untangle which were lynchings and which should be classified some other way.

Stephanie Harp recounts the brutal lynching of John Carter near Little Rock, Pulaski County, in early May 1927, one of the last lynchings in Arkansas. After being hanged and riddled with bullets, Carter, who had been accused of attacking a white woman and her daughter, was dragged behind a car to the black business district of Little Rock, where his mangled body was burned in...


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