- Race and Ethnicity in Arkansas: New Perspectives ed. by John A. Kirk
The authors featured in the edited volume Race and Ethnicity in Arkansas: New Perspectives explore “episodes that have shaped the state’s racial and ethnic history” (p. xi). The first section considers African American experiences during slavery through the late nineteenth century. In chapter 1, Kelly Houston Jones offers a more racially nuanced follow-up to Orville W. Taylor’s book Negro Slavery in Arkansas (Durham, N.C., 1958). Slavery was fluid, Jones explains, in terms of literal movement via “the second middle passage” and in terms of work, community building, and negotiation of master/slave and white/black relationships (p. 4). Jones concludes that enslaved people “brokered more power than Orville Taylor presented” (p. 16). While examples of that power sometimes feel overstated, Jones presents a convincing argument.
Carl H. Moneyhon offers a detailed examination of the postemancipation “efforts of blacks in Arkansas to gain freedom” (p. 17). He finds that African Americans connected their freedom to economic independence, education, landownership, and the right to life. Black Arkansans found their struggles to attain autonomy hampered by a simultaneously mutable and intransigent racism. Still, according to Story Matkin-Rawn, prevalent racism was not enough to stop African Americans from migrating to Arkansas from other places in the South. Pushed by violence and drawn by labor recruitment and wages [End Page 698] sufficient to make landownership possible, African Americans came to Arkansas in large numbers in the late nineteenth century.
Part 2 explores racialized violence. Guy Lancaster’s essay analyzes the terror practices of white Arkansans in “sundown towns,” recounting particularly egregious examples of the forced expulsion of African Americans and the refusal to let them settle in certain areas. Lancaster argues that we must consider “historic acts of racial cleansing” in communities that “continue to represent the legacy of past hostilities, even if they are not explicitly labeled as sundown towns” (p. 57). Jacqueline Froelich opens her chapter with the details of a 1905 riot in Harrison, Arkansas, during which white residents attacked and drove off their black neighbors. Froelich also discusses Harrison citizens’ ongoing attempts at racial unification and healing. Grif Stockley’s look at a 1959 fire at a state school that caused the deaths of twenty-one black boys is particularly compelling. Stockley shows that efforts to dismiss the fire as unintentional and simply the result of neglect ignore the system that put the boys into the school and the social structure that allowed facilities for African Americans to be so carelessly managed. Stockley’s assertion that the fire was a product of Jim Crow practices is spot-on.
The authors in Part 3 seek to expand our definition of black activism by looking at nontraditional methods. Cherisse Jones-Branch’s study of black home demonstration agents again underlines the importance of economic self-sufficiency. Calvin White explores the life of black minister Elias Camp Morris, who emphasized self-help, community outreach and uplift, and black ownership. Barclay Key presents an intriguing example of a civil rights “inactivist,” Church of Christ minister Richard Nathaniel Hogan. Yet Hogan, in his “inactivity,” still represented a model of an accomplished black man who “carried and presented himself as an equal among whites” (p. 116). Key adroitly describes the fine line Hogan walked as a black man who often ministered to and worked with white people at the same time that he objected to many of their social beliefs.
Part 4 offers perspectives on the Latino/a and Asian experience in post–World War II Arkansas. Historian Julie M. Weise cautions readers not to overstate the phenomenon of the “Nuevo” New South while examining the bracero program in Arkansas in the mid-twentieth century. The treatment and lives of the braceros often mirrored those of their black counterparts, although Weise notes some important distinctions. For example, braceros were able to draw on “a nationalist Mexican consciousness” that informed their collective attempts to demand action...