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The Observer, Feb. 7

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RECONSTRUCTION'S REWARDS: Black lawmakers, 1891.
  • RECONSTRUCTION'S REWARDS: Black lawmakers, 1891.

The Observer, inspired by the Times' cover story this week on the history of racial strife in Crittenden County, was yearning to lay our hands on images from that county's past. So imagine our delight when the University of Arkansas Libraries unveiled on Feb. 1 its new website, “Land of (Unequal) Opportunity: Documenting the Civil Rights Struggle in Arkansas.” We typed in “Crittenden” and came up with a montage of black legislators from 1891, including G.W. Watson of Crittenden County. The website's 2,000 images — photographs, newspaper articles, drawings, cartoons — have mostly to do with Central High School, but evidence of other dark moments in our past, including the internment of the Japanese during World War II, is also there.

A random browse came up with an article published in 1972 about the arrest of 22 black high school students in Marianna after a crowd of 250 protested the school's refusal to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a program.

Our favorite find so far: A poem about Orval Faubus, from the Minneapolis Star-Journal:

“Come Webster, open up your pages/and claim this new word for the ages/To Faubus means to muff the ball/To fumble, blunder, bluff and stall/To dodge and squirm to back and fill/To light the fires of ill will/To dominate and be officious/To be quite stubborn and capricious/To start a crisis then deplore it/And blame the other fellow for it/This verb is useful when once learned/Thus — Nero faubused while Rome burned.”

The website is scipio.uark.edu and contains, as a bonus, posters to download and teacher curricula. The name honors the famed black lawyer Scipio Jones. Contributing to the materials, most of which are in the UA Special Collections department, were other archives, including the Butler Center of the Central Arkansas Library System in Little Rock, libraries at UALR and Ouachita Baptist University, the state History Commission and the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives at Washington.

In that vein, an observation about excitable historians.

You see a lot of congratulatory hand-pumping and shouts of “Yes!” here in Razorbackland, but you don't often hear and see such celebratory gesturing in the quiet confines of a library.

But there, at the state History Commission, an intrepid young researcher rolling through old microfilm suddenly cried out, Yes! It was true! Here's proof! And got congratulations all around from the library staff. Then she made a cell phone call on the spot, eager to share her discovery with her boss back in Jacksonport.

What on earth was all the fuss about? It was just that something that had always been rumored around Jacksonport — the former county seat of Jackson County, at the confluence of the White River and the Black River and now a state park — was correct. A tin box had been placed in the cornerstone of the courthouse when it was being built in 1869. Yes there was, and placed in it were some confederate money, the state Constitution and some newspapers.

No touchdowns. No three-pointers. Just the turning of historical rumor into historical fact, an archivist's rush. Jacksonport's archivist, whose name, appropriately enough, is Angela Jackson, found her proof in the 1869 Arkansas Gazette.

Jackson said there are no plans to take a jackhammer to the historic courthouse, but if the box could be recovered without harming the structure it might make a dandy display when Jacksonport celebrates Arkansas State Parks' 75th year on April 26.

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