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The seeds of failure in american race relations in the 19th century

Not only did the state introduce some significant initiatives in response to the multi-faceted reform movement known as progressivism, it also endured race riots, natural disasters, and severe economic problems. Even as it attempted to modernize its road and school systems, expand its manufacturing sector, and deal with increasing urbanization, most Arkansans continued to live in rural areas and remained largely conservative, both in their attitudes toward traditional social relations, particularly with regard to race, and in their religious orthodoxy.

The tension between the need to modernize and the provincialism of rural Arkansas persisted throughout the era and inhibited meaningful change. Although the Great Depression and the New Deal undermined the old system by introducing a new player in the field—the federal government—and provided a forum by which certain groups in Arkansas could dare to challenge elites, political power remained with those who traditionally ruled, and even divisions within that group did not work to the advantage of these newly assertive voices.

Given the limitations of reform and the challenges of the Great Depression, the state was hardly poised to take advantage of the opportunities of the wartime economy that was on the horizon in 1940.

They adopted the strategy of local option, which involved allowing voters in distinct localities to decide on whether the sale of liquor would be permitted. They were joined in 1886 by the Arkansas Prohibition Alliance, an organization that excluded female members and, by 1912, were using another progressive measure, the initiative, in an attempt to achieve their ultimate goal: Arkansas voters in 1910 had approved a constitutional amendment validating the use of the initiative and referendum.

The former provided the electorate with a greater role to play in initiating laws; the latter could reject laws passed by the legislature with which the electorate did not agree. Under the provisions of the initiative, voters in 1912 circulated petitions to place a prohibition measure on a ballot but failed to secure enough votes for passage.

Women had played an important role in the fight for prohibition, but they had been seriously hampered by their inability to vote.

The WCTU, for example, was heavily peopled by church women who had first developed a taste for activism through their association with organizations sponsored by their churches. For some women, it was a short step from the fight against demon rum to the struggle for voting rights.

The seeds of failure in american race relations in the 19th century

The suffrage movement gained an important ally with the election of Governor Charles Brough in 1916. His wife, Anne, was dedicated to the issue and, with her husband, helped convince the legislature in 1917 to allow women to vote in primary elections.

Arkansas subsequently became the second state in the South to ratify the nineteenth amendment in 1920. Another progressive reform that had roots in the nineteenth century involved the end of the convict leasing system. Arkansas used convict leasing as a revenue-generating measure, but prisoners were often kept in horrible conditions, and Arkansas governors began to agitate for its abolition in the 1880s.

By the turn of the century, the situation was approaching a national scandal, and in 1912, Governor George Washington Donagheywho had been unable to convince the legislature to act, simply furloughed 360 prisoners from prison, thus making it impossible to furnish enough prisoners to honor convict leasing contracts.

That effectively ended the system in Arkansas. The under-funded public school system, which itself was only a few decades old, became the preoccupation of those who sought to expand literacy in the state. In 1900, Arkansas schools ranked among the worst in the country in all indices: In addition, the total number of school districts in the state far exceeded a level the state could support.

In 1900, there were 4,903; by 1920, there were 5,118. Efforts to reform the system began in the early twentieth century and met with some success in the decades that followed: The legislature responded to pressure by passing a severance tax with all proceeds accruing to public education, but an income tax, and later a tobacco tax, also earmarked for education, were declared unconstitutional.

The legislature subsequently restructured the tobacco tax in a way that passed muster with the Arkansas Supreme Court. In 1929, the legislature enacted the Hall Net Income Tax Law, which established a system of equitable taxation on incomes, a system of taxation that did not place most of the burden on rural Arkansans.

Some rural schools were consolidated, a school bus system was inaugurated, and the school term was lengthened. But the Great Depression ended reform, and by the early 1930s, many teachers were accepting worthless county scrip as payment for their services. A new crisis in education faced Junius Marion Futrellwho was elected to governor in 1932. Futrell, who believed that anything beyond an eighth grade education should be reserved for the privileged few, set about enacting his campaign pledge: He became embroiled in a controversy with the federal government when he used Federal Emergency Relief Administration FERA funds to pay teacher salaries.

  • Impoverished, segregated isolated , and disfranchised, they made easy targets;
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  • Futrell, who believed that anything beyond an eighth grade education should be reserved for the privileged few, set about enacting his campaign pledge:

When Harry Hopkins, director of FERA, threatened to cease funding all federal programs in Arkansas, including the farm program of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration AAAsomething close to the hearts of the politically powerful eastern Arkansas planters, Futrell ultimately called for the repeal of prohibition so liquor sales could be taxed.

He also supported the legalization of gambling, which provided for the opening of a dog track in West Memphis Crittenden County and a horse-racing track in Hot Springs Garland Countyboth of which would be subject to taxation. He later endorsed a tax on retail sales. The school funding problem had been solved, at least for a time.

Transportation Improved transportation was another effort to modernize the state that nearly collapsed in the face of the Great Depression.

The construction of roads had always been the province of local governments, and this had worked reasonably well until the advent of the automobile, which demanded the seeds of failure in american race relations in the 19th century much more comprehensive system of roads and the construction of roads that would tolerate automobile traffic.

The state complicated the situation by passing a law in 1907 that allowed counties to create road improvement districts, sell bonds to pay for the construction of the roads, and then tax the citizens who were to benefit.

This seemed like a logical way to proceed, but in fact, it led to the problem of poorly coordinated and unsupervised construction. Acting without supervision or coordination, many counties constructed roads that were inadequate or simply ended at the county line. Still, the state attempted to adapt to the evolving situation, requiring automobile drivers to purchase licenses in 1911 and creating a state highway commission in 1913.

The commission, however, had little control over the widely scattered road improvement districts, and the passage of the Alexander Road Improvement law in 1913 further intensified the localized nature of road construction. Although the state was able to qualify for federal aid to roads in 1917, by 1921, the road system was in such disarray that its ability to qualify for matching funds in a federal roads program was in question.

In order to participate in the program, the state needed to abolish the road improvement districts and centralize road construction in the Arkansas Department of Transportation. When the legislature balked, federal funds were withdrawn, and the improvement districts faced bankruptcy. Only then did the legislature pass the Harrelson Road Act in October 1923, giving the highway commission supervisory responsibility.

However, the separate road districts continued to exist, and the commission exercised little significant influence. By 1927, the county road districts were either bankrupt or close to it. Martineau secured legislation that allowed the state to assume the debts and responsibilities of the road improvement districts and launched the Martineau Road Plan, an ambitious state highway construction program.

  • The Klan had broadened its list of targets in this twentieth-century reincarnation, however, and included Jews , Catholics , foreigners, and bootleggers;
  • Even notorious repression of dissent against the war became a part of the Arkansas experience when an attempt to arrest draft evaders in Cleburne County led to an armed confrontation in 1918 in what is known as the Cleburne County Draft War.

Marion Futrell devised a strategy for refunding the highway debt. To consolidate all the highway debts into one, he called a special session in 1934 and pushed his Highway Refunding Act through.

The highway debt problem had been temporarily solved.

The seeds of failure in american race relations in the 19th century

Although it was not the sector of the economy that New South advocates of the late nineteenth century championed, it was the one that expanded most dramatically in the twentieth century.

In fact, most of the limited expansion in the manufacturing sector came as a result of the processing of agricultural or timber products. From apple orchards in the northwest to the cotton plantations of the Delta, agriculture fed the manufacturing sector. The orchard industry in the state, however, fell victim to a blight in the 1920s, and the cotton economy nearly crumbled under the burden of a precipitous decline in cotton prices following World War I.

As historian Carl Moneyhon suggests, the most significant problem was that too many people were trying to make a living on too few farms. Between 1900 and 1930, the number of farmers in Arkansas increased from 178,694 to 242,334, while the acres in farms actually decreased slightly, from 16,636,719 in 1900 to 16,052,962 in 1930.

This statewide total masked a trend occurring in the Delta, where an expansion of the plantation system was transforming the landscape. With the advent of railroads in the late nineteenth century and the emergence of the lumber industry in many previously overlooked Delta counties, the plantation system supplanted forests and swamps. During a period when the number of farmers had increased significantly, the number of farm owners remained almost steady, from 84,138 in 1900 to 85,842 in 1940.

The number of share tenants increased in that period from 53,837 to 83,835. The particularly loathsome systems of tenancy and sharecropping placed an extraordinary burden of debt upon those least able to support it. Although both are forms of tenancy, the common vernacular characterized them as sharecropping or tenancy. In the sharecropping arrangement, a man without implements and mules secured a contract, typically a verbal one, with a land owner.

At the end of the year, the planter paid the sharecropper about one third of the cotton crop in exchange for his labors. Given the high interest rates at the company store, many sharecroppers found themselves owing the planter at the end of the year. The tenant farmer was only marginally better off.

He brought more to the bargaining table—mules and implements—but he, too, lived in a house owned by the planter and secured advances from the company store. Although he received half of the cotton crop in exchange for his labor, he often found himself in debt at the end of the year. Racial Turmoil The burden of sharecropping and tenancy fell heaviest on the black population, a population that endured a series of significant setbacks beginning with the passage of disfranchisement and segregation statutes in the 1890s.

  • That effectively ended the system in Arkansas;
  • The former provided the electorate with a greater role to play in initiating laws; the latter could reject laws passed by the legislature with which the electorate did not agree;
  • By 1920, the bottom fell out of the agricultural market, with cotton going from thirty-seven cents to six cents per pound.

By the late nineteenth century, disfranchisement had come to be accepted as a political reform. In fact, it served to shore up a faltering Democratic Party lock on the electoral process. The 1880s and 1890s had witnessed an electoral challenge from a third party that seemed likely to unite poor white and black voters. By passing the secret ballot and the poll taxlarge numbers of illiterate and poor black and white voters were eliminated from the electoral process.

The secret ballot required that illiterate voters have election judges, rather than friends, mark their ballots. The poll tax imposed a financial burden upon the poorest segment of the population and, together with the prohibitions affecting illiterates, effectively disfranchised eighteen percent of black voters and seven percent of white voters. The final instrument of disfranchisement enacted in Arkansas was the White Primary. In 1906, the state Democratic Party, like that in other Southern states, voted to allow only white voters the right to participate in the Democratic primary.

Robinson, was not content to suffer disfranchisement and, in 1928, launched the Arkansas Negro Democratic Organization. He filed suit in Arkansas against the White Primary but was disappointed when the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the white-only Democratic primary in Robinson v.

As the plantation sector expanded and both black and white immigrants from other Southern states came to Arkansas to work the land, competition arose between them for plantation jobs. Planters often preferred black labor because they could pay them less and work them harder. Impoverished, segregated isolatedand disfranchised, they made easy targets. A number of nightriding incidences occurred, with the object being to drive black farmers from the plantations so that whites could secure their positions.

Two cases involving twenty-seven defendants were prosecuted in federal court in 1904, but only in one were convictions secured. The case, Hodges v.

Supreme Court, and that body, in a landmark decision, ruled that black Americans had no constitutionally protected right to employment. Meanwhile, the lynching of blacks, which had reached a peak in the 1890s, began to taper off in the early twentieth century, but highly publicized lynchings still occurred—one in 1921 in Mississippi County and one in Little Rock in 1927.

The Ku Klux Klan KKKwhich had revived during and immediately after World War I, did not play a major role in either of those lynchings but became a potent force in state politics, particularly in the 1920s.

The Klan had broadened its list of targets in this twentieth-century reincarnation, however, and included JewsCatholicsforeigners, and bootleggers. Only bootleggers were in sufficient supply in Arkansas to attract their attention, so blacks generally became a prime target. The most notorious case of mob violence against black citizens was the Elaine Massacrewhich occurred in 1919 in Phillips County.

Black farmers near Elaine Phillips County formed the Progressive Household Union of America that year and hired Ulysses Bratton, a white Little Rock attorney, to file suits against the planters for whom they worked.

Believing they were being cheated by the planters, they sought to secure a fair settlement, and Bratton, a former federal prosecutor who had pursued peonage investigations earlier in the century, agreed to represent them.

Even as Bratton was investigating their claims and gathering evidence, a shooting occurred outside a church where black union members were meeting on the night of September 30, 1919, leaving one white man wounded and another dead. The next three days witnessed mass violence against black men, women, and children, as mobs of whites from surrounding counties and from Mississippi sought to put down what they believed to be a black rebellion.