Date of Graduation

5-2013

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in History (MA)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

History

Advisor

Micheal Pierce

Committee Member

Patrick Williams

Second Committee Member

Calvin White

Keywords

Social sciences; Arkansas; Backlash; Conservative; Realignment; Republican; South

Abstract

This paper examines the political realignment of Fort Smith, Arkansas and argues that the standard historiographical argument about the process of realignment does not explain what occurred in this city. Much of the historiography of political realignment currently revolves around the belief in a white backlash against the federal government and the national Democratic Party for their support of African American civil rights. Though historians have moved toward a "suburban synthesis" that downplays the backlash thesis, historians still argues that many white southerners moved to the suburbs to avoid integration.

I argue that this process did not occur in the city of Fort Smith to the extent that it may have in other regions of the South. Rather, the citizens of Fort Smith began voting Republican as a way to entice northern industry to the region as a way of boosting the city's economy after the shutdown of Fort Chaffee; the fort was built during World War II and acted as the main source of economic growth for the city. Once the base was shut down, local elites in the local Chamber of Commerce began to devise methods to attract industry to the city as a way of keeping the local economy afloat. Over the course of a decade, they transformed the city from one that relied on the federal government to one that relied on industry. These changes coincided with Orval Faubus' push to industrialize Arkansas, however, the arrival of Winthrop Rockefeller created the opportunity for Arkansas Republicans to make major gains. Since the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce leaders were Republicans they convinced the people of Fort Smith to support the Republican Party. By the early 1960s, industry had created thousands of high paying jobs in the city and made it one of the wealthiest in the state. Fort Smith voters began to vote for Republicans primarily as a way to ensure economic success and not out of racial animosity.

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