Race relations past, present and future 

Race Relations in the Natural State, by Grif Stockley

In “Race Relations in the Natural State” (The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, $30 in cloth, $15 in paperback), Grif Stockley introduces us to William Pickens. Pickens was a black laborer living in South Carolina in 1888, so an Arkansas farm recruiter's pitch must have sounded pretty good: Our state was “a tropical country of soft and balmy air, where cocoanuts, oranges, lemons, and bananas grew.” Pickens took the bait, only to find a world of cotton and poverty where paradise was supposed to be.

Most ex-slaves didn't suffer from such extreme trickery, but they were similarly teased by Reconstruction's promise of freedom and equality. “Race Relations” describes how the state's African Americans have fought to turn that promise into a reality. From admission to the Union in 1819 to the present day, Stockley shows, Arkansas has a history of slow racial progress marked by notable setbacks.

Although the book is divided into sections that touch upon major political movements, it is at its best when it invokes specific characters and situations. Stockley, who's previously written books on Daisy Bates and the Elaine race massacres of 1919, uses individual portraits to show the concrete effects of race on daily life. William Pickens provides an example of how debt peonage beset blacks after Reconstruction; other individuals show the brutality of lynching and the divide that separated black landowners and black laborers.

The book is intended as an introductory text, and at 198 pages it allows only a glance at themes and movements that impact the broader history of Southern race relations. For example, Stockley writes that the Housing Act of 1949 enabled segregation to spread across Little Rock, but he only gives a cursory explanation of what the federal policy was and how it worked. Unfortunately, the book lacks a bibliography, so the curious reader will have to do extra searching to find the authors Stockley quotes throughout the text.

Stockley amends a brief final chapter that discusses immigration in Arkansas, primarily through the lens of a recent Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation study that has been frequently cited. I don't think that this is a totally logical shift in topic, and I'm skeptical of the sort of reductionism that mentions slavery, peonage and segregation alongside a policy that bars state college scholarships from the children of undocumented immigrants, dubious as that policy may be. Still, Stockley's wider point is well-taken: An awareness of Arkansas's callous racial past might teach us to use a bit more compassion in the future.



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Fritz Brantley

  • He talks, and talks, the talk

    A fellow posted an old newspaper article on his blog about a Mike Huckabee speech to a religious group in 1998. A friend faxed the article to me, then called to ask if I’d yet read it, which I had.
    • Dec 20, 2007
  • The incredible shrinking Huckabee

    Plus: COPS!
    • Dec 20, 2007
  • Going whole hog

    A Q&A with irreverent Arkansas-raised comedian Matt Besser
    • Dec 20, 2007
  • More »

More by John Williams

Most Shared

Latest in Books

Visit Arkansas

Forest bathing is the Next Big Thing

Forest bathing is the Next Big Thing

Arkansas is the perfect place to try out this new health trend. Read all about the what, why, where and how here.

Event Calendar

« »


  1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31  

Most Viewed

  • The Savage truth

    Talking Feynman and failure with science champion Adam Savage.
  • Foul play

    This beautiful little ride couldn't have just ended conventionally. That's not the Razorback way.
  • Wanted: 1991 Magic

    'Beauty and the Beast' revamp gets lost in the details.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Swamp brawl

    • Doesn't hurt with the Godzilla tie-in. With the mentioning of Monarch, and the atomic bomb…

    • on March 21, 2017
  • Re: Feeling the power of Green Day at Verizon

    • Rock out & Fight back with the rousing new protest song: "The Good Fight" by…

    • on March 20, 2017

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation