Previously part of French Louisiana and the Louisiana Purchase, the Territory of Arkansas was admitted to the Union as the 25th state on June 15, 1836. Much of the Delta had been developed for cotton plantations, and landowners there largely depended on enslaved African Americans' labor. In 1861, Arkansas seceded from the United States and joined the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. On returning to the Union in 1868, Arkansas continued to suffer economically, due to its overreliance on the large-scale plantation economy. Cotton remained the leading commodity crop, and the cotton market declined. Because farmers and businessmen did not diversify and there was little industrial investment, the state fell behind in economic opportunity. In the late 19th century, the state instituted various Jim Crow laws to disenfranchise and segregate the African-American population. During the 1950s, during the civil rights movement, Arkansas and particularly Little Rock were major battlegrounds for efforts to integrate schools.
White interests dominated Arkansas's politics, with disfranchisement of African Americans and refusal to reapportion the legislature. Only after the civil rights movement and federal intervention were more African Americans able to vote. The Supreme Court overturned rural domination in the South and other states that had refused to reapportion their state legislatures or retained rules based on geographic districts. In the landmark ruling of one man, one vote, it held that states had to organize their legislatures by districts that held approximately equal populations, and that these had to be redefined as necessary after each decade's census.
After World War II, Arkansas began to diversify its economy and see prosperity. During the 1960s, the state became the base of the Walmart corporation, the world's largest retailer, headquartered in Bentonville. In the 21st century, its economy is based on service industries, aircraft, poultry, steel, and tourism, along with important commodity crops of cotton, soybeans and rice.
The name Arkansas initially applied to the Arkansas River. It derives from a French term, Arcansas, their plural term for their transliteration of akansa, an Algonquian term for the Quapaw people. These were a Dhegiha Siouan-speaking people who settled in Arkansas around the 13th century. Akansa is likely also the root term for Kansas, which was named after the related Kaw people.
The name has been pronounced and spelled in a variety of ways.[c] In 1881, the state legislature defined the official pronunciation of Arkansas as having the final "s" be silent (as it would be in French). A dispute had arisen between the state's two senators over the pronunciation issue. One favored /ˈɑːrkənsɔː/ (AR-kən-saw), the other /ɑːrˈkænzəs/ (ar-KAN-zəs).[c]
In 2007, the state legislature passed a non-binding resolution declaring that the possessive form of the state's name is Arkansas's, which the state government has increasingly followed.
Before European settlement of North America, Arkansas, was inhabited by indigenous peoples for thousands of years. The Caddo, Osage, and Quapaw peoples encountered European explorers. The first of these Europeans was Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1541, who crossed the Mississippi and marched across central Arkansas and the Ozark Mountains. After finding nothing he considered of value and encountering native resistance the entire way, he and his men returned to the Mississippi River where de Soto fell ill. From his deathbed he ordered his men to massacre all the men of the nearby village of Anilco, who he feared had been plotting with a powerful polity down the Mississippi River, Quigualtam. His men obeyed and did not stop with the men, but were said to have massacred women and children as well. He died the following day in what is believed to be the vicinity of modern-day McArthur, Arkansas, in May 1542. His body was weighted down with sand and he was consigned to a watery grave in the Mississippi River under cover of darkness by his men. De Soto had attempted to deceive the native population into thinking he was an immortal deity, sun of the sun, in order to forestall attack by outraged Native Americans on his by then weakened and bedraggled army. In order to keep the ruse up, his men informed the locals that de Soto had ascended into the sky. His will at the time of his death listed "four Indian slaves, three horses and 700 hogs" which were auctioned off. The starving men, who had been living off maize stolen from natives, immediately started butchering the hogs and later, commanded by former aide-de-camp Moscoso, attempted an overland return to Mexico. They made it as far as Texas before running into territory too dry for maize farming and too thinly populated to sustain themselves by stealing food from the locals. The expedition promptly backtracked to Arkansas. After building a small fleet of boats they then headed down the Mississippi River and eventually on to Mexico by water.
Later explorers included the French Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet in 1673, and Frenchmen Robert La Salle and Henri de Tonti in 1681. Tonti established Arkansas Post at a Quapaw village in 1686, making it the first European settlement in the territory. The early Spanish or French explorers of the state gave it its name, which is probably a phonetic spelling of the Illinois tribe's name for the Quapaw people, who lived downriver from them.[c] The name Arkansas has been pronounced and spelled in a variety of fashions. The region was organized as the Territory of Arkansaw on July 4, 1819, with the territory admitted to the United States as the state of Arkansas on June 15, 1836. The name was historically /ˈɑːrkənsɔː/, /ɑːrˈkænzəs/, and several other variants. Historically and modernly, the people of Arkansas call themselves either "Arkansans" or "Arkansawyers". In 1881, the Arkansas General Assembly passed Arkansas Code 1-4-105 (official text):
Whereas, confusion of practice has arisen in the pronunciation of the name of our state and it is deemed important that the true pronunciation should be determined for use in oral official proceedings.
And, whereas, the matter has been thoroughly investigated by the State Historical Society and the Eclectic Society of Little Rock, which have agreed upon the correct pronunciation as derived from history, and the early usage of the American immigrants.
Be it therefore resolved by both houses of the General Assembly, that the only true pronunciation of the name of the state, in the opinion of this body, is that received by the French from the native Indians and committed to writing in the French word representing the sound. It should be pronounced in three (3) syllables, with the final "s" silent, the "a" in each syllable with the Italian sound, and the accent on the first and last syllables. The pronunciation with the accent on the second syllable with the sound of "a" in "man" and the sounding of the terminal "s" is an innovation to be discouraged.
Settlers, such as fur trappers, moved to Arkansas in the early 18th century. These people used Arkansas Post as a home base and entrepôt. During the colonial period, Arkansas changed hands between France and Spain following the Seven Years' War, although neither showed interest in the remote settlement of Arkansas Post. In April 1783, Arkansas saw its only battle of the American Revolutionary War, a brief siege of the post by British Captain James Colbert with the assistance of the Choctaw and Chickasaw
Slavery became a wedge issue in Arkansas, forming a geographic divide that remained for decades. Owners and operators of the cotton plantation economy in southeast Arkansas firmly supported slavery, as they perceived slave labor as the best or "only" economically viable method of harvesting their commodity crops. The "hill country" of northwest Arkansas was unable to grow cotton and relied on a cash-scarce, subsistence farming economy.
Additional Native American removals began in earnest during the territorial period, with final Quapaw removal complete by 1833 as they were pushed into Indian Territory. The capital was relocated from Arkansas Post to Little Rock in 1821, during the territorial period.
When Arkansas applied for statehood, the slavery issue was again raised in Washington, D.C. Congress eventually approved the Arkansas Constitution after a 25-hour session, admitting Arkansas on June 15, 1836, as the 25th state and the 13th slave state, having a population of about 60,000. Arkansas struggled with taxation to support its new state government, a problem made worse by a state banking scandal and worse yet by the Panic of 1837.
Civil War and reconstruction
In early antebellum Arkansas, the southeast Arkansas slave-based economy developed rapidly. On the eve of the Civil War in 1860, enslaved African Americans numbered 111,115 people, just over 25% of the state's population. Plantation agriculture set the state and region behind the nation for decades. The wealth developed among planters of southeast Arkansas caused a political rift to form between the northwest and southeast.
Many politicians were elected to office from the Family, the Southern rights political force in antebellum Arkansas. Residents generally wanted to avoid a civil war. When the Gulf states seceded in early 1861, Arkansas voted to remain in the Union. Arkansas did not secede until Abraham Lincoln demanded Arkansas troops be sent to Fort Sumter to quell the rebellion there. On May 6, a state convention voted to terminate Arkansas's membership in the Union and join the Confederate States of America.
Arkansas held a very important position for the Rebels, maintaining control of the Mississippi River and surrounding Southern states. The bloody Battle of Wilson's Creek just across the border in Missouri shocked many Arkansans who thought the war would be a quick and decisive Southern victory. Battles early in the war took place in northwest Arkansas, including the Battle of Cane Hill, Battle of Pea Ridge, and Battle of Prairie Grove. Union general Samuel Curtis swept across the state to Helena in the Delta in 1862. Little Rock was captured the following year. The government shifted the state Confederate capital to Hot Springs, and then again to Washington from 1863 to 1865, for the remainder of the war. Throughout the state, guerrilla warfare ravaged the countryside and destroyed cities. Passion for the Confederate cause waned after implementation of programs such as the draft, high taxes, and martial law.
Under the Military Reconstruction Act, Congress declared Arkansas restored to the Union in June 1868, after the Legislature accepted the 14th Amendment. The Republican-controlled reconstruction legislature established universal male suffrage (though temporarily disfranchising former Confederate Army officers, who were all Democrats), a public education system for blacks and whites, and passed general issues to improve the state and help more of the population. The State soon came under control of the Radical Republicans and Unionists, and led by Governor Powell Clayton, they presided over a time of great upheaval as Confederate sympathizers and the Ku Klux Klan fought the new developments, particularly voting rights for African Americans.
Following the Brooks-Baxter War, a new state constitution was ratified, re-enfranchising former Confederates.
In 1881, the Arkansas state legislature enacted a bill that adopted an official pronunciation of the state's name, to combat a controversy then simmering. (See Law and Government below.)
After Reconstruction, the state began to receive more immigrants and migrants. Chinese, Italian, and Syrian men were recruited for farm labor in the developing Delta region. None of these nationalities stayed long at farm labor; the Chinese especially quickly became small merchants in towns around the Delta. Many Chinese became such successful merchants in small towns that they were able to educate their children at college.
Some early 20th-century immigration included people from eastern Europe. Together, these immigrants made the Delta more diverse than the rest of the state. In the same years, some black migrants moved into the area because of opportunities to develop the bottomlands and own their own property.
Construction of railroads enabled more farmers to get their products to market. It also brought new development into different parts of the state, including the Ozarks, where some areas were developed as resorts. In a few years at the end of the 19th century, for instance, Eureka Springs in Carroll County grew to 10,000 people, rapidly becoming a tourist destination and the fourth-largest city of the state. It featured newly constructed, elegant resort hotels and spas planned around its natural springs, considered to have healthful properties. The town's attractions included horse racing and other entertainment. It appealed to a wide variety of classes, becoming almost as popular as Hot Springs.
Rise of the Jim Crow laws
In the late 1880s, the worsening agricultural depression catalyzed Populist and third party movements, leading to interracial coalitions. Struggling to stay in power, in the 1890s the Democrats in Arkansas followed other Southern states in passing legislation and constitutional amendments that disfranchised blacks and poor whites. In 1891 state legislators passed a requirement for a literacy test, knowing it would exclude many blacks and whites. At the time, more than 25% of the population could neither read nor write. In 1892, they amended the state constitution to require a poll tax and more complex residency requirements, both of which adversely affected poor people and sharecroppers, forcing most blacks and many poor whites from voter rolls.
By 1900 the Democratic Party expanded use of the white primary in county and state elections, further denying blacks a part in the political process. Only in the primary was there any competition among candidates, as Democrats held all the power. The state was a Democratic one-party state for decades, until after passage of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 to enforce constitutional rights.
Between 1905 and 1911, Arkansas began to receive a small immigration of German, Slovak, and Scots-Irish from Europe. The German and Slovak peoples settled in the eastern part of the state known as the Prairie, and the Irish founded small communities in the southeast part of the state. The Germans were mostly Lutheran and the Slovaks were primarily Catholic. The Irish were mostly Protestant from Ulster, of Scots and Northern Borders descent.
Black sharecroppers began to try to organize a farmers' union after World WarI. They were seeking better conditions of payment and accounting from white landowners of the area cotton plantations. Whites resisted any change and often tried to break up their meetings. On September 30, 1919, two white men, including a local deputy, tried to break up a meeting of black sharecroppers who were trying to organize a farmers' union. After a white deputy was killed in a confrontation with guards at the meeting, word spread to town and around the area. Hundreds of whites from Phillips and neighboring areas rushed to suppress the blacks, and started attacking blacks at large. GovernorCharles Hillman Brough requested federal troops to stop what was called the Elaine massacre. White mobs spread throughout the county, killing an estimated 237 blacks before most of the violence was suppressed after October 1. Five whites also died in the incident. The governor accompanied the troops to the scene; President Woodrow Wilson had approved their use .
After the Supreme Court ruled segregation in public schools unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954), some students worked to integrate schools in the state. The Little Rock Nine brought Arkansas to national attention in 1957 when the federal government had to intervene to protect African-American students trying to integrate a high school in the capital. Governor Orval Faubus had ordered the Arkansas National Guard to help segregationists prevent nine African-American students from enrolling at Little Rock's Central High School. After attempting three times to contact Faubus, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent 1,000 troops from the active-duty 101st Airborne Division to escort and protect the African-American students as they entered school on September 25, 1957. In defiance of federal court orders to integrate, the governor and city of Little Rock decided to close the high schools for the remainder of the school year. By the fall of 1959, the Little Rock high schools were completely integrated.