Arkansas History

Planners of the Southwest Trail would like to use this former Rock Island Railroad overpass on West 7th Street in Little Rock, which is no longer in use. A Union Pacific train passes over an adjacent overpass on Sunday, August 2.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Seven years after a proposal was announced for a pedestrian and cycling trail linking Little Rock and Hot Springs, a key step toward creation of the Southwest Trail is underway. A virtual public hearing is taking place online through Aug. 26 allowing people to view the preferred alignment for the route, an interactive map, and offer comments on the project which has an estimated construction cost of $43 million.

On June 4, 1919, the United States Congress finally passed the Nineteenth Amendment, guaranteeing women’s right to vote.

Before going into effect, the amendment required ratification by thirty-six states. The Arkansas Assembly had already passed a state suffrage amendment and Governor Brough supported women’s right to vote. The Governor quickly called a special session of the Arkansas legislature and, on July 29 Arkansas became the twelfth state to ratify the nineteenth amendment.

In 1915 Florence Cotnam became the first woman to address the Arkansas State Assembly while in session.

Cotnam was a member of the Political Equality League and the Equal Suffrage Central Committee, organizations that had been lobbying the Assembly for an amendment to the Arkansas constitution guaranteeing a woman’s right to vote in every election alongside men.

After several attempts to get an amendment added to the state constitution, Arkansas suffragists finally won a partial victory in 1917.

The Presbyterian Church was at the vanguard of teaching Black children in Hot Springs in the late nineteenth century.

Reverend A.E. Torrence opened a parochial school for Black students in the early 1890s, which was “highly regarded locally for it program of culture and quality education.” In 1904, Reverend C.S. Mebane took over the school, including ownership of its property and equipment. While many referred to the school as the Mebane Academy, he called it the Hot Springs Normal and Industrial Institute.

Jonesboro was home to two Baptist Colleges, neither of which lasted long. The Mount Zion Baptist Association founded Woodland College in 1901 and built two structures before it failed in 1913. Seven years later, ground was broken for a two hundred thousand dollar administration building for Jonesboro Baptist College.

Fayetteville was home to the first degree-conferring college charted by the state.

Englishman Robert Graham emigrated to the U.S. and after attending a Disciples of Christ college in Virginia became a missionary for the faith. He organized a Disciples congregation in Fayetteville in 1848 and became its pastor, and in 1851 he bought ten acres on what is now College Avenue to hold a college.

Former U.S. Senator David Pryor (center) at a KUAR-hosted discussion on Oct. 4, 2017 at the main branch of the Central Arkansas Library System.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The family of David Pryor, a former Arkansas governor and U.S. senator, says he's hospitalized in Little Rock after testing positive for COVID-19.

The family's statement said David Pryor and his wife Barbara Pryor both received positive test results Friday. Barbara Pryor, who didn’t have symptoms, is quarantining at home but David Pryor, who is 85 and a stroke and heart attack survivor, was admitted Saturday to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

J. William Fulbright
Clinton Steeds / Flickr

A committee will consider whether to remove a statue of former Senator J. William Fulbright from its current location at the Fayetteville campus of the University of Arkansas. The group will eventually make a recommendation, but a decision about the statue and whether to rename the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, will ultimately be made by the UA System Board of Trustees. 

Nearly 6,000 people have signed a petition calling for the removal of his statue because of his position on civil rights.

J. William Fulbright
Clinton Steeds / Flickr

U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright is one of Arkansas’ most renowned politicians and in the age of the Black Lives Matter movement his civil rights record is being re-examined.

The Delta Grassroots Caucus is calling for the removal of his statue on the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville campus to a museum and re-naming the College of Arts and Sciences. The caucus said it supports a campaign to educate people about his vast accomplishments, especially those in foreign affairs and his opposition to the Vietnam War, but his failures in the civil rights movement need to be noted as well.

National Association of Black Veterans state commander Lisa  Moss photographs the historical marker for Frank Moore that unveiled Friday at Little Rock National Cemetery. Elaine massacre Elaine 12 twelve
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A historical marker was unveiled Friday at Little Rock National Cemetery noting where a black sharecropper is buried who helped bring a labor union to Phillips County in eastern Arkansas, leading to what would be the bloodiest racial uprising in state history. Frank Moore, a veteran of World War I, would be convicted for his alleged role in the deaths of five white men, and was later the namesake of a precedent-setting case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court that led to his release.

Rock Island
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

An $880,000 federal grant is being awarded to Pulaski County to build part of a pedestrian and bicycling path that will link Little Rock and Hot Springs. The Southwest Trail will mostly be constructed on two former railroad right-of-ways.

David Monteith / KUAR News

The Arkansas Governor's Mansion celebrated its 70th anniversary Monday. Former Governors Mike Beebe, Mike Huckabee, and Jim Guy Tucker joined family members of other previous governors at the mansion.

The campaign to build the mansion began in 1944 with Mrs. Agnes Bass Shinn. Governor Sid McMath and his family became the mansion's first residents on February 3, 1950.

First Lady Susan Hutchinson unveiled this year's commemorative Christmas ornament, a glass replica of the mansion, to mark the anniversary.

Elizabeth Eckford Little Rock Nine
Daniel Breen / KUAR News

Elizabeth Eckford, who was one of nine black students to desegregate Little Rock's Central High School in 1957, recounted her experiences to a crowd Wednesday. She spoke in a lecture sponsored by the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service and the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators at Little Rock’s Statehouse Convention Center.

Brought on stage in a wheelchair by a ranger with the National Park Service, the 78-year-old Eckford was greeted by silent visual applause; a stark contrast to the chaos she endured as a member of the Little Rock Nine.

A women’s suffrage rally on the steps of the Arkansas state Capitol in 1917 celebrating passage of a bill to allow Arkansas women to vote in primary elections. Gov. Charles Brough can be seen standing in the front row, wearing a black tie and white jacket
Encyclopedia of Arkansas

An event taking place Friday in Helena will delve into the role Arkansas played in helping women get the right to vote in the U.S. The 19th Amendment was adopted in 1920 and the Delta Cultural Center is marking the 100th anniversary with a discussion of the women’s suffrage movement in the state.

Center Curator Drew Ulrich says it’s a complex history that eventually led to Arkansas ratifying the federal amendment. But, as was the case elsewhere in the country, there were racial and economic overtones.

A pair of Searcy County twins played a significant role in the folk revival of the mid-twentieth century.

Abbie Sherman Morrison and Absie Sheridan Morrison were born in 1876, the sons of a Civil War veteran who served in both armies but favored the Union, giving his sons the names of Yankee generals as their middle names.

Anyone who has driven up Highway 65 in Central Arkansas has doubtless noticed the work of African American stonemason Silas Owens.

Torii Hunter, born in Pine Bluff in 1975, had one of the greatest baseball careers of any Arkansan who played the game. A natural athlete, Hunter gravitated toward baseball after a home run in a Little League game at age 13 led to reporters interviewing him.

He was the first draft pick for the Minnesota Twins in 1993, playing with them until the California Angels wooed him away with a ninety million dollar contract in 2007. He later played two seasons with the Detroit Tigers before returning to the Twins.

A cross-dressing Confederate guerrilla pulled off a remarkable subterfuge to give his men a memorable Christmas present in 1864.

Howell A. “Doc” Rayburn, born in 1841, joined the Twelfth Texas Cavalry in October 1861, traveling to Des Arc the following March to board steamboats to cross the Mississippi.

Fred Marshall, born in Memphis and raised in Little Rock, was a talented musician, sculptor, inventor and educator, but is best know for his work on a classic Christmas cartoon.

Marshall, whose mother taught art at Arkansas Tech University, began playing piano at five and was playing bass and drums by the time he went to Little Rock Central High. As a teenager he played at jazz clubs on Ninth Street, remembering that he would hide behind his bass when police entered: “Not only was I underage, I was a white man playing in a black club.”

Cold War tensions led to a nuclear weapon test being named for the Natural State.

Following the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, the Soviet Union announced in August 1961 that it would resume atmospheric testing after a three-year moratorium; the U.S. followed suit in October. The United States conducted thirty-six nuclear tests in the Pacific as part of Operation Dominic.

On December 22nd, 1956, Arkansas hosted the first national championship football game of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.

Arkansas beat efforts by three other states to land the event, in part because the Louisiana legislature passed a law banning integrated sporting events in the state.

The Little Rock Chamber of Commerce worked with the Aluminum Company of America and Reynolds Metals Company to raise the fifty-thousand dollar fee to pay the CBS television network for hosting rights to what would be known as the Aluminum Bowl.

The spring of 1937 witnessed some of the worst flooding in Arkansas history. January saw nearly thirteen inches of rain fall in Arkansas – eight inches above normal – and similar downpours in other states dropped 165 billion tons of water along the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys.

Two Arkansas National Guard units – the Two Hundred Sixth Coast Artillery and One Hundred Fifty Third Infantry Regiments – fought World War II in an often-overlooked arena of the Pacific Theater: Alaska.

Relatives of the Elaine 12 participated in the induction ceremony.
Kelly Connelly / KUAR News

Twelve African-American men wrongly accused of murder during the 1919 Elaine Massacre and later exonerated were inducted into the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail. Each man has a trail marker dedicated in his honor. U.S. Rep. French Hill, the Chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Dr. Christina Drale, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, Jr., along with community members and family members of the Elaine 12 spoke at an induction ceremony for the trail Tuesday.

Friday is the first observance of an Arkansas state holiday honoring publisher John H. Johnson. He created Ebony magazine in 1945 and Jet magazine in 1951. Johnson was the founder, chairman, and CEO of Johnson Publishing Company, which at one time was the largest black-owned publishing company in the world.

Suffrage In Sixty Seconds: Battle Hymn Of The Suffragists

Oct 22, 2019

On August 6, 1890 the Arkansas Woman Suffrage Association held its annual meeting in the Hall of Representatives at Little Rock.

The meeting opened with a rousing rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

This choice of song is emblematic of the attitudes of Arkansas women at the heart of the suffrage battle. But there was another reason for the musical selection. This Civil War-Era song was written by Julia Ward Howe, an ardent suffragist and much sought-after speaker at women’s rights events.

Suffrage In Sixty Seconds: The Arkansas Equal Suffrage Association Grows

Oct 22, 2019

Although small when it formed, by February of 1889, the Arkansas Equal Suffrage Association had grown significantly. The Little Rock chapter now boasted sixty-seven members including some gentlemen whose wives refused to join.

Suffrage In Sixty Seconds: The Early Arkansas Equal Suffrage Association

Oct 21, 2019

When Clara McDiarmid established the Arkansas Equal Suffrage Association in Little Rock in 1888, the organization was small but young and energetic.

Miss Ida Joe Brooks, then a professor of Mathematics at Little Rock University, described those early days of the movement in Arkansas.

“There were thirteen of us” in the original association, three of whom were under the age of twenty-one. Five women were not even residents of the city. It was not a formidable party,” Brooks commented.

“We are few in numbers, weak in influence, poor in purse, but valiant in spirit.”

On January 31st, 1897, the Arkansas Gazette reported on a “horrible monster” terrorizing Searcy County.

Called the gowrow based on its horrifying roar, the beast had been slaughtering cattle until a posse tracked it to its cave, littered with human and animal remains, and killed the beast with several volleys of rifle fire, but not before the twenty-foot long, fearsomely tusked gowrow ripped the leg from a posse member.

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