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The Body Count: Lynching in Arkansas

From the eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries, the term “lynching” did not have any racial implications. Starting in the 1880s, however, mob violence was increasingly directed at African Americans. The 1890s witnessed the worst period of lynching in U.S. history. The grim statistical record almost certainly understates the story. Many lynchings were not recorded outside their immediate locality, and pure numbers do not convey the brutality of lynching.In this 1892 report printed in Philadelphia’s Christian Recorder, Reverend E. Malcolm Argyle recounted events in Arkansas and described the efforts of his fellow black ministers to secure passage of anti-lynching legislation. In response to the rising tide of lynchings of African-Americans across the South during the 1890s, Memphis, Tennessee, newspaper editor Ida Wells-Barnett launched a national anti-lynching crusade. Despite decades of determined effort, the anti-lynching movement never succeeded in securing federal passage of an anti-lynching law. Although Congress never passed even a moderate anti-lynching statute brought before it for more than forty years, parts of the 1968 Civil Rights Act provided for federal intervention on behalf of individuals injured in the exercise of their civil rights.

There is much uneasiness and unrest all over this State among our people, owing to the fact that the people (our race variety) all over the State are being lynched upon the slightest provocation; some being strung up to telegraph poles, others burnt at the stake and still others being shot like dogs. In the last 30 days there have been not less than eight colored persons lynched in this State. At Texarkana a few days ago, a man was burnt at the stake. In Pine Bluff a few days later two men were strung up and shot, and this too by the brilliant glare of the electric lights. At Varner, George Harris was taken from jail and shot for killing a white man, for poisoning his domestic happiness. At Wilmar, a boy was induced to confess to the commission of an outrage, upon promise of his liberty, and when he had confessed, he was strung up and shot. Over in Toneoke County, a whole family consisting of husband, wife and child were shot down like dogs. Verily the situation is alarming in the extreme.

At this writing 500 people are hovering, upon wharves in Pine Bluff, awaiting the steamers to take them up the Arkansas River to Oklahoma. The Arkansas Gazette a white Democratic journal of this date says 1,200 more are passing through the upper country, enroute to Oklahoma and what is most pitiable, these poor people are comparatively destitute; yet are being imposed upon by unprincipled sharks of their own race. What is the outcome of all this? It is evident that the white people of the South have no further use for the Negro. He is being worse treated now, than at any other time since the surrender. The white press of the South seems to be subsidized by this lawless element, the white pulpits seem to condone lynching. The colored press in the South are dared to take an aggressive stand against lynch law. The Northern press seems to care little about the condition of the Negroes South. The pulpits of the North are passive Will not some who are not in danger of their lives, speak out against the tyrannical South, will not the [Philadelphia] Christian Recorder, the [New York] Age, the [Indianapolis] Freeman and all other journals devoted to the especial interest of the Afro-Americans, speak out against these lynchings and mob violence? For God’s sake, say or do something, for our condition is precarious in the extreme.

A few days ago a convention of colored clergymen met in the city of Little Rock to take under advisement the drafting of an address to be presented to the Governor of this State. There were a few representative men from all different branches of the Christian church in this State, but it was surprising to note the conspicuous absence of some of our leading pastors. These were severely condemned, and set down on as unworthy of recognition and the support of the race, in that they lacked that paramount requisite that makes up race pride—interest. The convention was composed of the best brains of the A.M.E., Baptist, M.E., Campbellite, A.M.E. Zion, C.M.E., and Presbyterian Churches of this State, also representatives of the Congregational Church, the Negro bar and the press. Much interest was manifested in the formulating of an address to the Governor. Some desired that the address be in strong language, while others desired that it take the appearance of a mild appeal for redress. The effect of this convention is watched with the deepest interest; the preachers all over the State promising to lecture upon and counsel quietness. Will not the Christian Recorder ask the prayers of the connection in behalf of their brethren in Arkansas? Pray for us.

Source: Christian Recorder (Philadelphia) 24 March 1892. Reprinted in Herbert Aptheker, ed., A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States, 2, (The Citadel Press: New York, 1970), 793–794.