Date of Graduation

7-2020

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in History (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

History

Advisor

Calvin White, Jr.

Committee Member

Jim Gigantino II

Second Committee Member

Charles Robinson

Keywords

Arkansas, Civil Rights, Race Relations

Abstract

On April 7, 1968, Governor Winthrop Rockefeller claimed that “Arkansas today stands at the threshold of leading the nation...for a better America,” The Republican Arkansas Governor spoke on the steps of the state capitol at a memorial for the beloved civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. who had been assassinated three days earlier. Rockefeller’s claim that Arkansas could lead the nation came just two years after the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) formally ended its work in the state to improve racial equality. Their efforts had seen widespread acceptance of integrated public facilities, increased voter registration and more meaningful integration of schools. SNCC’s work would not have been possible were it not for the already moderate approach Arkansas took on race relations and the state’s focus on economic success rather than white supremacy.

Arkansas has been widely considered a member of the Deep South region of the United States in terms of race relations. While the state was certainly not a haven for African Americans, the century following emancipation highlights the racial moderation undertaken by the state to promote economic growth, the real focus of the mid-South state. This was further influenced by the geographic diversity of Arkansas that meant that African Americans have been concentrated along the Mississippi River in the Delta, leaving the rest of the state with concerns that did not include race. From encouraging freedmen and women to move to the state to work, to the public condemnation of lynchings, Arkansas has always separated itself from its neighbors across the River. The two events that are oft-cited as the justifications for Arkansas’ Deep South reputation, the 1919 Elaine Massacre and the 1957 Central High School Crisis were powerful anomalies that in reality reflect both the national trends of racial violence, in the case of Elaine, and the desire by Orval E. Faubus to remain Governor and placate segregationists who vehemently opposed school integration. These events do not provide the full picture of Arkansas and its long trajectory toward racial moderation that have been on-going since emancipation.

Available for download on Thursday, August 04, 2022

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