Friday, February 1, 2013

Still Learning and Quoting from AR Encyclopedia

Civil War through Reconstruction

Throughout the American Civil War, thousands of slaves escaped from bondage in Arkansas and made their way to the Union army encampments. The exact number has never been determined, but anecdotal reports indicate that hundreds, perhaps thousands, died from malnutrition and disease in fetid, unsanitary, hastily constructed “shanty towns” and settlements.
The escaped slaves in their midst created a dilemma and a headache for the Union commanders. One obvious and at least partial solution was to enlist able-bodied adult males into the military itself. In April 1863, Brigadier General Lorenzo Thomas, adjutant general of the U.S. Army, issued an appeal to the freedmen to volunteer for service, and many quickly flocked to the colors. The army immediately recruited three black companies in Helena (Phillips County), and they became the nucleus for the First Arkansas Volunteer Infantry Regiment (African Descent) Its new commander was Captain Lindley Miller, an abolitionist from a New York regiment. Eventually, over 5,000 former slaves in Arkansas joined the Union army.
White Confederates were incensed at the sight of black soldiers wearing blue uniforms. Even the notion of black men fighting for the Confederacy and donning the gray aroused intense ire. Throughout the Confederate States of America (CSA), slaves were sometimes used to help construct earthworks or other military fortifications and were used as cooks, servants to Confederate officers, or in similar capacities, but they were not permitted to enlist. Arkansas’s most brilliant Confederate commander, Major General Patrick Cleburne, learned to his own detriment how great was the opposition to the idea of slaves bearing arms, even if for the Rebel cause. In the winter of 1863–64, facing the Union’s overwhelming numerical superiority and the growing possibility of the Confederacy’s defeat, Cleburne recommended that slaves be recruited into the army and given their freedom in return. Historian Thomas A. DeBlack noted that Cleburne’s proposal, though quietly rejected, damaged his career. The CSA did adopt a similar policy in 1865, but by then it was too late.
The revulsion against the idea of slaves or former slaves bearing arms also affected Rebel attitudes and actions toward black soldiers serving in the Union army. Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith, the Confederate commander in the Trans-Mississippi West, encouraged those serving under him to treat “armed negroes and their officers” not as regular soldiers protected by ordinary rules of civilized warfare but as runaways and armed insurrectionists. Smith’s policy led directly to the slaughter of captured black Union soldiers at the Engagement at Poison Spring in south Arkansas on April 18, 1864. Southern white savagery bred black savagery in turn. Soon after, at the Engagement at Jenkins’ Ferry, fought on April 30, 1864, soldiers of the Second Kansas Colored Infantry, the companion unit to the First Kansas Colored Infantry regiment whose survivors had been massacred at Poison Spring, executed a new command of their white officers to “take no prisoners as long as the Rebels…murder our men.”
When the guns of war finally fell silent in Arkansas in May 1865, the circumstances of black Arkansans had already undergone radical transformation. Slavery had not only collapsed as a practical matter but had been legally abolished in the constitution of a new Unionist state government established in Little Rock during the spring of the previous year. In some respects, however, the new constitution, largely the creation of white Unionists from the Ozark Mountain country of northwest Arkansas, left black Arkansans in a kind of legal limbo: they were no longer bondsmen, but they were not yet fully free men and women enjoying all the rights of American citizens. While the Unionist state constitution of 1864 eliminated slavery and repudiated secession, for instance, it did not extend the right to vote or hold public office to any black citizens, not even to those who were literate, owned property, or were soldiers in or veterans of the Union army. One provision in the constitution was reminiscent of the antebellum statutes against free blacks; it specified that no blacks not already living in Arkansas could establish residence in the state, except by authority of the government of the United States or under proclamation of the president of the United States.
Conditions worsened further insofar as black equality was concerned when ex-Confederates gained control of the Arkansas General Assembly following the August 1866 state elections. The new “rebel” legislature of 1866–1867 adamantly refused to ratify the proposed Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Moreover, the legislature proceeded to adopt a new “Black Code” that contravened the notion of equal protection. Although the code did extend to the freedmen some rights that they had never enjoyed as slaves—including the right to form legal marriages, to enter into legal contracts, to hold property, to sue and be sued, and to give evidence in court—it also imposed upon them special proscriptions: blacks could not vote or hold public office, serve on juries or in the militia, or attend schools with or intermarry with whites.
Similar actions occurred in other Southern states as well, and eventually these provocations brought about a Northern backlash. Between March and July 1867, Congress passed three new Reconstruction Acts. These new measures set into motion a process whereby the Southern state governments were dismantled and replaced by new, more radical state governments in which black men could vote, hold public office, and enjoy full political equality.
Former Arkansas slaves immediately seized these new opportunities. Most of the adult black males who were eligible participated in a new registration of voters conducted by the U.S. Army. Since many ex-Confederates boycotted the registration in protest against the Reconstruction Acts, at its conclusion, black men constituted thirty-five percent of the state’s new electorate, even though they made up twenty-five percent of the state’s population. Eight black men served as delegates to the new state constitutional convention of 1868 and actively participated in its deliberations. Under the new Reconstruction state government established by the 1868 constitution, black men exercised significant political power. Two black men held cabinet-level state positions. Joseph C. Corbin, a graduate of Oberlin College in Ohio, served as superintendent of public instruction from 1873 to 1874, while William H. Grey, a native of Washington DC, held the post of commissioner of immigration and state lands from 1872 to 1874. At the height of Reconstruction in 1873, twenty black men were serving in the Arkansas General Assembly, and numerous black county and local officials served in the black-majority counties of the east Arkansas Delta.
Black officeholders used their influence to advance the interests of their people. Those who served in the constitutional convention of 1868 were able to enshrine in that document provisions guaranteeing black voting and office-holding and creating a system of public schools; they also succeeded in blocking provisions prohibiting interracial marriages. Subsequently, African Americans serving in the General Assembly helped obtain ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. Further, they also worked successfully for two new state civil rights statutes in 1868 and 1873. The 1873 measure required owners or proprietors of businesses providing public accommodations, including those involving transportation and entertainment, to provide services to all without unequal treatment. Failure to comply could result in stiff fines and possible imprisonment. Another section of the act required that school districts furnish black children facilities equal to those given white children. The civil rights laws were infrequently enforced, but their presence slowed the development of segregationist practices.
Post Reconstruction through the Gilded AgeThese gains continued after Reconstruction ended in Arkansas in 1874. The various rival political alignments that emerged in Arkansas between 1872 and 1874 may have been bizarre, but Arkansas at least managed to avoid the intense racial and political polarization that characterized the collapse of Reconstruction in many other Southern states.
When white conservatives convened a new state constitutional convention on July 14, 1874, to bring Reconstruction in Arkansas to an end, eight black delegates attended, and the final document included provisions that allowed for the continuance of black suffrage, black office-holding, and the new black school system. In addition, the document even contained a “Declaration of Rights” that was reminiscent of the “equal protection” clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.
The first governor elected under the new constitution in 1874, white Democrat and “Redeemer” conservative Augustus H. Garland, promised during his gubernatorial campaign that, if elected, he would retain the Civil Rights Act of 1873 and protect black citizens’ access to the ballot and to free public schools. In his first proclamation as governor, he struck a conciliatory note, asking the different races to unify for the continuing greatness of the state. Garland even encouraged white Democrats in the predominantly black counties of the Delta to share offices with African Americans through an arrangement known as the “fusion principle.” By this device, political party county committees met before the day of voting and allotted each other places on the ballot. Each party agreed not to contest those positions assigned to the other, and a “compromise ticket” would then be presented at the forthcoming election. Thanks to the operation of this system, black men continued to vote and hold many local county offices and seats in the state legislature until the early 1890s.
This measure of political equality helped some black men to realize a degree of economic and social mobility. This was particularly true in the state’s rapidly developing cities and towns, especially in Little Rock, where the population increased from 3,727 in 1860 to 38,307 in 1900. During this same time span, the city’s black population increased from twenty-three to thirty-eight percent of the city’s total. Most of Little Rock’s black populace, refugees from the plantations, had limited education and few advanced skills. Toiling as day laborers, porters, and domestic servants, they earned bare subsistence incomes. Even so, a number of factors in Little Rock’s urban milieu opened avenues for potential advancement. These included a more cosmopolitan population possessing at least a modicum of “urbanity” and tolerance for difference; a vigorous multi-party system in which Republicans, Democrats, and members of third parties vied for black votes; a well-financed public school system that offered a full nine-month school term, a high school program, and a more diverse curriculum for children of both races; and a white business establishment that prized enterprise, initiative, bustle, and ability, particularly the ability to raise capital and make money, and that was willing to accord a degree of recognition to individual African Americans who demonstrated these qualities.
Thanks to these various factors, urbanization facilitated the appearance of something entirely new in the history of Arkansas race relations: an authentic black bourgeoisie. By the turn of the century, a thriving black commercial district had emerged along Little Rock’s West Ninth Street, where a small class of independent black artisans, craftsmen, and merchants operated their places of business. Similar districts emerged in several other large towns scattered across the state. Above the tradesmen and the shop owners, at the head of black society, were thriving entrepreneurs and professional men, some of whom had acquired substantial wealth. One notable example was businessman Wiley Jones of Pine Bluff. By the early 1890s, he owned the city’s racetrack, one of its two streetcar systems, extensive rental properties, and was a partner with several prominent whites in one of Pine Bluff’s major real estate development companies; his net worth at that time was estimated to be approximately $300,000.
Education and religion were two spheres, greatly intertwined, in which black Arkansans were rapidly developing their own institutions. The first state-supported black institution of higher education in the state was Branch Normal College in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB), which was established in 1873. Following it, black religious groups created three other colleges in the following few years: Philander Smith College, established as Walden Seminary in Little Rock in 1877 for the training of black Methodist ministers; Arkansas Baptist College, founded as Minister’s Institute by the Colored Baptists of the State of Arkansas in 1884, also in Little Rock; and Shorter College, originally Bethel University, established in Little Rock in 1886 by the African Methodist Episcopal Church but later moved to North Little Rock (Pulaski County). Within the Methodist and Baptist circles, African Americans often organized their own denominations separate from whites, and a few ministers in Arkansas rose to positions of prominence within their respective groups. Elias Camp Morris of Helena, for instance, was elected president of the National Baptist Convention in 1895.

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