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A History of Southland College

The Society of Friends and Black Education in Arkansas

Thomas C. Kennedy

Publication Year: 2009

In 1864 Alida and Calvin Clark, two abolitionist members of the Religious Society of Friends from Indiana, went on a mission trip to Helena, Arkansas. The Clarks had come to render temporary relief to displaced war orphans but instead found a lifelong calling. During their time in Arkansas, they started the school that became Southland College, which was the first institution of higher education for blacks west of the Mississippi, and they set up the first predominately black monthly meeting of the Religious Society of Friends in North America. Their progressive racial vision was continued by a succession of midwestern Quakers willing to endure the primitive conditions and social isolation of their work and to overcome the persistent challenges of economic adversity, social strife, and natural disaster. Southland’s survival through six difficult and sometimes dangerous decades reflects both the continuing missionary zeal of the Clarks and their successors as well as the dedication of the black Arkansans who sought dignity and hope at a time when these were rare commodities for African Americans in Arkansas.

Published by: University of Arkansas Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v

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pp. vii-xii

About the time that Ronald Reagan was first elected president of the United States, I sat in the library at Haverford College, a neophyte Quaker scholar, perusing British Friends’ journals. At one point while I scanned the pages looking for any nuggets of information that might help to boost the launching of my new research project...

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Chapter 1: Worlds Apart: Phillips County and Wayne County

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pp. 3-18

Sometime before sunset on 8 April 1864 the Argyle, a side-wheeling steamer of 319 tons,1 slipped into its mooring at the Mississippi River port of Helena, Arkansas. Among the passengers disembarking at this vital Federal outpost in the midst of the hostile Arkansas...

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2. Friends and Freedmen

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pp. 19-32

Even before the Emancipation Proclamation, tens of thousands of blacks flocked to whatever parts of Confederate slave states were occupied by Federal forces.1 “There was no plan for this exodus. No Moses to lead it.” In the end, the...

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3. The Curse of Slavery and War

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pp. 33-50

Early in 1868, in the midst of her fourth year in Arkansas, Alida Clark vividly expressed her frustrations and concerns to the Friends’ Review: I again address...

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4. The Bible and the Spelling Book

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pp. 51-74

Observing the moral and spiritual landscape of the Arkansas Delta from her isolated rural post at the turn of a new decade, Alida Clark believed that only remedies offered by the Society of Friends could elevate the condition of the place and...

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5. Trials and Triumphs

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pp. 75-96

Where did Southland stand in the wake of its twelfth anniversary celebration? To begin, it was by then obvious that Calvin and Alida Clark had become inexorably melded to the institution and that what began as a missionary endeavor was continuing as a life’s work. For Indiana Quakers who knew...

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6. The End of the First Generation

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pp. 97-110

The optimistic tone that prevailed at the beginning of the school term in 1881 scarcely survived the end of that year. Throughout the late winter and spring of 1882 every dispatch from Southland described “fearful distress, misery and horror” as the Mississippi and its tributaries overflowed their banks and water from broken levees poured into Helena and other towns. A...

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7. From Miz’ Clark to Jim Crow

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pp. 111-128

Because insurance payments for the Southland buildings destroyed by fire covered less that half the estimated replacement cost, the always financially strapped missionary board was again required to take extraordinary measures to raise the funds necessary for rebuilding. A central feature of a newly launched solicitation campaign was a memorial “from the colored people ...

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8. A Troubled Decade

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pp. 129-150

As the 1892-93 school year wound down, Southland principal Herbert Charles reported that “the quality of school work” has shown “considerable improvement since the first of last year.” Students from the normal department who had gone out to teach during the winter months were returning, having...

9. The Wolford Era

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pp. 151-176

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10. New Beginnings and Unhappy Endings

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pp. 177-198

The first catalog of newly christened Southland Institute described the school as located in “a beautiful and healthful neighborhood of industrious, intelligent people . . . away from noise, temptations and distractions of a city, drinking fully of the wholesome air and pure sunshine.” This message came, perhaps...

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11. An Avenue of Great Service

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pp. 199-218

Walter C. Woodward, executive secretary of the Five Years Meeting, recalled that of all the many problems and trials facing the Home Missions Board “none . . . required so many hours of time and so much weariness of body and mind” as Southland Institute. The vision of Southland becoming...

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12. The Guard Changes

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pp. 219-238

When Raymond Jenkins wrote to thank Dr. J. H. Dillard for his assistance in helping Southland secure a five-hundred-dollar grant from the Slater Fund, he remarked on difficulties he was encountering in his struggle “to build up a school which has slipped down.”1 Jenkins was not exaggerating. Less...

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13. Last Days

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pp. 239-264

Southland had survived its sixtieth year and, in anticipation of the largess of the General Education Board, seemed assured a sixty-first. Yet, only the funds provided by 309 Quaker contributors, ranging from $1 to $4000, had made it possible for the school to remain open. And the Home Missions Board would have to depend on the continued generosity of Friends to...

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pp. 265-268

The experiment of having Lester Perisho stay on at Southland to continue the religious meeting for Southland Quakers and conduct a Sunday school for local young people while Jesse and Luella Henley operated the farm did not prove successful. While Perisho enjoyed his Sunday school class, he also had...


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pp. 269


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pp. 270


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pp. 271-272


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pp. 273-326


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pp. 327-340


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pp. 341-349

E-ISBN-13: 9781610750011
E-ISBN-10: 1610750012
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557289162
Print-ISBN-10: 1557289166

Page Count: 424
Illustrations: 25 illustrations
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- Education (Higher) -- Arkansas.
  • Southland College (Helena, Ark.) -- History.
  • Society of Friends -- United States -- History.
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