Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Arkansas in Modern America: 1930-1999

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Arkansas in Modern America: 1930-1999

Article excerpt

Arkansas in Modern America: 1930-1999. By Ben F. Johnson, III. (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000. Pp. xiv, 275. Acknowledgments, foreword by Elliott West, introduction, map, illustrations, selected sources, index. $34.95, cloth; $18.95, paper.)

This book is an indispensable one for understanding Arkansas's development in the twentieth century. Ben Johnson's coverage of economic, political, social, and cultural activities is thorough, offering perceptive insights into forces that helped to transform the state in the last century. The book gives due attention to regional relationships within Arkansas and to urban-rural tensions as society changed. It is a well-written account, with memorable vignettes of people and events and with a sure-footed analysis of state and local political contests over development.

The spine of the volume is a fascinating story of the emergence of an Arkansas infrastructure for economic development and its effects on society. The study is especially strong on business and governmental leadership, but it also covers labor trends and issues. Taking off from where Carl Moneyhon's Arkansas and the New South, 1874-1929 (1997) ends, Johnson roots the story of twentieth-century Arkansas in American and southern regional contexts.

The Great Depression is a somber beginning to Johnson's account, as 80 percent of Arkansans resided on farms or in small towns, many of them stuck in deep poverty made worse by the national economic downturn. He devotes considerable attention to the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union, examining deep-rooted class and racial divisions. The book traces economic and social modernization, but it never abandons an interest in later chapters in the continued importance of agriculture to the state. Johnson outlines New Deal activities in the state, from their role in diminishing poverty to nurturing a new cultural identity through the work of the Farm security Administration. World War II receives appropriate attention for the demographic shifts and economic progress associated with it, the increasing role of the federal government in the state, the effects of the war on traditional culture, and even the role of internment and prisoner of war camps in Arkansas.

This book is especially valuable in analyzing how leadership made a difference in Arkansas. Sid McMath is, of course, a central figure for his enlightened post-World War II reform efforts and racial moderation, compared to Orval Faubus's seemingly unprincipled but, at the time, politically promising racial extremism. …

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