Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

The Killing of Carnell Russ: Civil Rights, Law Enforcement, and the Courts

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

The Killing of Carnell Russ: Civil Rights, Law Enforcement, and the Courts

Article excerpt

"Widespread Racial Violence Persists in Eastern Arkansas Farming Area," read the headline of Roy Reed's article about his home state in the October 10, 1971, edition of the New York Times. "A notion is going around, mostly in the North, that the race issue is fading away in the South," Reed wrote. "The people of eastern Arkansas know better." He noted that within just the past year the area had "seen one black man shot to death by a white policeman, 10 blacks and whites injured by gunfire in three towns, numerous others beaten with clubs, tire tools and fists, and several buildings damaged by arson." Such incidents had been occurring for the past three years, and "most of the violence here has been by whites against blacks."1

By this time, with the gains of the civil rights movement of the 1960s beginning to be implemented, a younger and more assertive black leadership was emerging, not just in eastern Arkansas but across the state, that was less likely to accept the status quo in race relations and certainly less likely to accept the idea that blacks should act deferentially toward whites, as had been the custom in the past. Black Power-inspired groups, such as Black United Youth (BUY) in Little Rock, North Little Rock, Arkadelphia, and Benton, the Council for the Liberation of Blacks (CLOB) in Hot Springs, and Community Organizations Build Absolute Teamwork (COMBAT) in Cotton Plant, sprouted throughout Arkansas. As these and other new groups pushed for change, whites hit back, seeking to slow or stall black efforts to achieve justice and equality. Two different sets of agenda and expectations about race relations in Arkansas resulted in many direct and sometimes violent contests for power that permeated interactions between blacks and whites during the period, from full-scale battles to day-to-day skirmishes.2

Many of these contests for power revolved around institutions that had been instruments for preserving white supremacy in the past. Local and state law enforcement officials and agencies had long been at the forefront of policing the color line and keeping African Americans, as many whites liked to think of it, "in their place." Local, state, and sometimes even federal courts and federal law enforcement agencies were complicit in backing and upholding local and state police power. There are numerous examples of conflict between African Americans and white law enforcement officials in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Arkansas. In 1968, the death of Curtis Ingram at the hands of a white trusty at the Pulaski County penal farm led to conflict between members of BUY and white city police in Little Rock. Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller had to call in the National Guard and impose a curfew to quell the unrest.3 The same year, black leaders blamed violent clashes between white city police and local African-American youths participating in an El Dorado protest march on an "overabundance of police and police cars on the scene."4 In 1969, the police chief of Cotton Plant, W. B. Whitaker, shot and killed a black man, Lacy Thomas, but a grand jury returned no indictment. The local African-American chapter of the Committee for Peaceful Coexistence (COPE) sent a telegram to representatives of the federal Civil Rights Commission requesting a hearing on the incident, saying, "we feel the valuation of a black man's life means nothing to the white structure of the community."5 In 1970, a report by the Arkansas Council on Human Relations contended that during a peaceful march by local black citizens in Earle, local and state police had fired shots into the air, charged at the marchers, and beaten them.6 In 1971, a white policeman in Marianna arrested a young black woman for talking back to a white waitress. African Americans launched a boycott of white businesses there, which brought a violent backlash, including an alleged attempt by a local county judge to run over two black picketers. The same year, Forrest City erupted in violence after a white city policeman shot and killed an African-American man over a traffic violation. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.