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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

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'The Great Negro State of the Country: Arkansas's Reconstruction and the Other Migration'

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Photo:  Family of Negro sharecropper, Little Rock, Arkansas, by Shahn, Ben, 1898-1969
photographer; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC 20540 USA ; file http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/pnp/fsa/8a16000/8a16100/8a16142v.jpg; downloaded 16 July 2013.

“‘The Great Negro State of the Country’: Arkansas’s Reconstruction and the Other Great Migration,” written by Story Matkin-Rawn, assistant professor of history and coordinator of southern and Arkansas studies at the University of Central Arkansas, is a stellar work that brings to light an obscure piece of history concerning African American migration from the coastal and middle South to the western South after the Civil War. This article has been made available by Professor Matkin-Rawn here (Dropbox).

Post-War Arkansas

I was fascinated from the start to learn of this Post-Civil War migration because it affords me the opportunity to learn more about possible connections to South Carolina and Georgia ancestors, but then I realized I may actually learn more about my paternal ancestors (Foster, Nelms) who left Mississippi for Arkansas and thrived until they were forced to leave the state or suffer when a note was tacked to a tree on their land to "Read, and Run!"  Fortunately they could read and understand the potential danger.

Lately, I have been concerned that I have not been able to give the research of these branches of my family due diligence, but having read through “‘The Great Negro State of the Country’: Arkansas’s Reconstruction and the Other Great Migration” I am very excited to delve deeper.


Gleaning more


Even though I am interested in documenting my own ancestors, I want to learn more about African American history in Arkansas and the lives of contemporaries to my ancestors.  I know that in order to understand and document ancestors prior to slavery, I need to follow the trail of Reconstruction records.  Because of “‘The Great Negro State of the Country’: Arkansas’s Reconstruction and the Other Great Migration,” I am at last able to formulate research objectives that will lead me to the answers I seek.


I am particularly interested in:

  • how African American newspapers were used to encourage the move to Arkansas
  • specific accounts of migration from regions in South Carolina, Georgia, and other states
  • how migration effected individuals and families
  • what benefits were enjoyed as the result of leaving former states

It would be great to have other genealogists share stories about specific families who were part of this migration and what became of them.  For starters, I selected Samuel Lewis Woolfolk (pg 35) who I learned migrated from Georgia  in 1871 and became one of twelve black legislators in 1890.  This astonishes me because the number of black legislators in South Carolina declined sharply at the end of Reconstruction.  I was able to locate the possible marriage license for Samuel and his wife Viola Birdsong (second record on page 362):

"Arkansas, County Marriages, 1837-1957," index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/NM16-QLH : accessed 16 Jul 2013), Sam Woolfork and Virla Birdsong, 1879.
Viola's name was not indexed properly, but you should be able to see the correct spelling of her name by looking closer at the digitized record. Even with a name like Viola Birgsong, I need to search out a few more records to compare this one to before I can be certain this is Samuel Lewis Woolfolk.  It will be rewarding to learn more about this Arkansas legislator. 

Just for fun, I thought it would be neat to include this pamphlet published in 1900 urging people to move to Arkansas:



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Sources:

Story Matkin-Rawn, “‘The Great Negro State of the Country’: Arkansas’s Reconstruction and the Other Great Migration.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 72 (Spring 2013): 1–41.  

"Arkansas, County Marriages, 1837-1957," index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/NM16-QLH : accessed 16 Jul 2013), Sam Woolfork and Virla Birdsong, 1879.

Family of Negro sharecropper, Little Rock, Arkansas, by 
Shahn, Ben, 1898-1969, photographer; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC 20540 USA ; file http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/pnp/fsa/8a16000/8a16100/8a16142v.jpg; downloaded 16 July 2013.


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