Date of Graduation

5-2020

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in History (MA)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

History

Advisor

Michael Pierce

Committee Member

Caree Banton

Second Committee Member

Patrick Williams

Third Committee Member

Jeannie Whayne

Keywords

African Americans, Agriculture, Arkansas delta, Crittenden County, Edmondson, Landownership

Abstract

This thesis examines the systematic dispossession of African American property by white planters in the Arkansas Delta. It argues white planters, backed by a legal system favorable to their interests, expropriated the black land in the once flourishing community of Edmondson, Arkansas. Founded in 1902 by African American business and political leaders, the Edmondson Home and Improvement Company purchased farmland and town lots and began to sell or rent the land to African Americans coming to the area. Located in Crittenden County, Edmondson represented black defiance in the face of Jim Crow laws and white supremacy. The town consisted of black-owned businesses financially supported by the productive cotton-growing soil that surrounded the town. However, the Great Depression lowered the price of cotton, and the town fell into decline. By the mid-1930s, New Deal programs, particularly the Agricultural Adjustment Agency, revitalized the cotton industry, making the land in Edmondson coveted by the dominant white planters.

During this time, a white man named Weaver acquired a town lot through an African American agent working on his behalf. The arrival of the first white landowner in Edmondson set in motion a conspiracy to take the land from African Americans and place it under white planter control. By 1941, Weaver had acquired nearly 600 town lots and was collecting rent from the original owners. Left economically devastated and under the control of white planters, the black people of Edmondson had no resources to contest the loss of their land. When the Southern Tenant Farmers Union arrived in Edmondson in 1936, it used its connections to fund a civil suit against Weaver in which they alleged that Weaver’s acquisition was part of a conspiracy to wipe out the last independent black community in Crittenden County. The people claimed that the sheriff and tax collector of Crittenden County had declared their land delinquent for failure to pay a tax that he had not properly levied against them. Having declared the lands delinquent, the sheriff then sold the lands to the State of Arkansas. The state then conveyed the land to Weaver, leaving him virtually the sole proprietor of Edmondson. The civil suit lasted from 1941 to 1949 when a Crittenden County judge dismissed the suit without a trial, and the people of Edmondson never reclaimed their property.

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