Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Racial Cleansing in Arkansas, 1883-1924: Politics, Land, Labor, and Criminality

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Racial Cleansing in Arkansas, 1883-1924: Politics, Land, Labor, and Criminality

Article excerpt

Racial Cleansing in Arkansas, 1883-1924: Politics, Land, Labor, and Criminality. By Guy Lancaster. New Studies in Southern History. (Lanham, Md., and other cities: Lexington Books, 2014. Pp. [vi], 159. $80.00, ISBN 9780-7391-9547-5.)

Historian Guy Lancaster's fascinating but short study on racial expulsion in Arkansas during the early Jim Crow era presents a compelling exploration of an understudied topic. The notion that several Arkansas towns, such as Mena and Paragould, and counties, such as Van Buren County, that were once home to hundreds of black families partook in what Lancaster defines as racial cleansing, seemingly to secure white political and economic interests, highlights a dark chapter in the American narrative. However, underlying the motives was the concept of establishing and keeping a redeemed all-white community. The author juxtaposes recently perpetrated efforts in the former Yugoslavia to ethnically cleanse that region of a so-called undesirable population with post-Reconstruction efforts by local white residents to racially cleanse their communities of black citizens, many of whom had resided in those communities since before the Civil War.

Divided into six chapters and framed around the premise that efforts to remove African Americans from towns and counties across Arkansas extended beyond lynching, Racial Cleansing in Arkansas, 1883-1924: Politics, Land, Labor, and Criminality argues that white Arkansans also engaged in various acts of physical and psychological intimidation against local blacks, who posed real and imagined economic, political, and social threats. These acts of cleansing, which the book contends were "rarely deadly," included beatings, the destruction of black property, and whitecapping vigilante groups posting such warnings as "'All negroes must leave this town inside of ten days or take what follows.... Negroes, don't let this slip your mind'" (pp. 6, 55). Moreover, the author posits that although racial cleansing targeted an entire population of African Americans, many times white vigilante groups used an incident involving an individual member of the black community to serve as an example to others.

Lancaster has meticulously examined newspapers, state and federal court cases and testimonies, census records, interviews from the Federal Writers' Project, and state legislative records to construct this narrative aimed at confronting the creation and maintenance of sundown towns. …

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