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Encyclopedia of Arkansas Minute: The 'One Drop Rule'

From 1911 to 1975 the ethnicity of Arkansans was legally defined by the blood of their ancestors.

Act 320 of 1911, also known as the “one drop rule,” defined anyone “who has … any negro blood whatever” as a “Negro,” consigning people with even remote African ancestry to second-class citizenship in segregated Arkansas.

The law was first challenged in a 1921 school segregation case when three children were expelled from a Montgomery County school because their grandmother had Cherokee ancestry; the school held that the Cherokees had “Negro” blood. The Arkansas Supreme Court, citing the “one drop rule,” agreed and the children and their descendants were ruled to be African American.

While many laws demanding the separation of whites and blacks were repealed in the 1960s, the language of Act 320 was published in the statutes of Arkansas until Act 280 of 1975 rewrote the state’s criminal code and eliminated any language defining race in terms of ancestry.

To learn more, visit EncyclopediaOfArkansas.net.

Mark Christ produces and hosts Encyclopedia of Arkansas Minute on KUAR. He is head of adult programming for the Central Arkansas Library System. He previously served as community outreach director for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, which he joined in 1990 after eight years as a journalist.