Sunday, November 07, 2021

Arkansas: A Bicentennial History (States and the Nation Series)

If you search for an Arkansas book, you are most likely to find an analysis of the Little Rock Central High integration. The federal troops game in after a defiant governor sought to prevent integration. Ironically, the governor had not shown much interest in integration issues and was able to parlay this into a successful reelection campaign.

Slavery and plantations have had a disproportionate role in the history of Arkansas, despite the lack of general importance to the population. Most residents did not have slaves. Only a small proportion of slaveholders worked on plantations. However, people were willing to fight for their rights. Arkansas was reluctant to succeed from the union. After the US government asked the state to send troops to help defend against the confederacy, the residents were reluctant to fight against their neighbors. Only one delegate voted against secession. (And this person would later become governor.) Later the government continued to support the idealistic needs of plantations, often at the expense of industrial development. (Even though the high plantation society was never really as predominant as other states.)

During the civil war, most residents fought on the confederate side. However, there was a significant amount (especially from the northern Ozarks) that fought for the Union. Alas, most of the hostilities in the state also took place in the north.

After reconstruction, Arkansas devolved to a one-party state. The state decided to follow the lead of Mississippi and adopt voting restrictions and Jim Crow regulations. Following Mississippi is never a recipe for progress and helped continue Arkansas's reputation as a backwater. The northern mountain part of the state was filled with rugged hillbillies, while there were other plantations along river valleys. Urban development took a while to take place, with the state retaining a primarily rural character longer than other states.

Arkansas had served as somewhat as a way station. It was the frontier beyond the edge of the Mississippi. It was also a gateway to Texas, Indian Territory  and further west. River transport was important, yet it never developed a St. Louis or New Orleans. At times the primary export was people.

The book is a brief history of the state written over 40 years ago. It does provide good coverage of the early history of the state into the mid twentieth century. The author came from a journalism background, thus the journalists are given significant say in the story. It is also interesting that though WalMart had existed for some time when the book was written, it didn't merit a mention in key Arkansas businesses.

No comments:

Post a Comment