The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992 Page: 540
540 Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Town and Country: Race Relations in an Urban-Rural Context, Arkansas, I865-
19o5. By John William Graves. (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press,
1990o. Pp. xiv+332. Acknowledgments, introduction, tables, black-and-
white photographs, notes, bibliography, sources, index, maps. $28.)
In a front-flap dust-jacket blurb, and in his introduction, his conclusion, and
here and there in his text, John William Graves affirms that in the first four
decades of freedom Arkansas' town and country districts treated freed men
and women in significantly different ways: white country folks, with their "re-
ceived racial tradition," preferred their black people to be dependent, docile,
and otherwise denied of full citizenship; white townspeople, with their "more
casual and flexible racial mores," were more liberal and indulgent, less insistent
on strict observance of the color line and, left to their own devices, might well
have continued to tolerate the "more quick-paced advancement" and the
"rapid ... economic and social mobility" that had characterized the initial and
quite "promising" urban experiences of Arkansas' freed men and women (pp.
3, 227-228). The state itself, he believes, was generally more progressive than
the southern region as a whole-a quality he attributes to its upper-South loca-
tion and to its comparatively late development. In a characteristically cautious
concluding paragraph he supposes that "blacks may have received more hu-
mane treatment and enjoyed more real opportunity in the less structured so-
cieties of the newer regions, where social relationships were less constrained by
inherited mores, at least in their rapidly developing cities and towns" (p. 228).
That, of course, is an arguable proposition, but one that Graves chooses
merely to assert rather than to argue systematically. The same is true of what
he declares to be his "major thesis," stated variously in beginning and closing
passages of his book: (1) "... that the urban centers of nineteenth-century
Arkansas did not exist in social isolation," and "in developing their own racial
practices, they would be influenced by the larger [rural] society of their time"
(p. 3); and (2) "that segregation legislation applicable to urban areas ... [gen-
erally emanated] from rural areas ..." (p. 226). To this reviewer, (1) would
seem to be at least partially axiomatic; (2) requires fuller, more coherent and
telling explication than Graves's disappointing book provides.
Roughly half of this revised dissertation is devoted to an able if largely deriv-
ative description of Arkansas politics during the periods of Presidential and
Congressional Reconstruction, Redemption, and Agrarian Revolt. Whatever
their other merits, these six chapters neither break new ground nor success-
fully engage the urban-rural conflict argument Graves proposes to make.
Other more original chapters are revisions of previously published articles, in-
cluding those devoted to the legislative histories of the state's separate coach
and disfranchisement laws and Graves's suggestive "reconsideration" of urban
race relations (Chapter IV, "The Promise of the City"). Although easily the
most valuable portion of the book, the latter chapter focuses too narrowly on
the economic concerns of a tiny black elite. A parallel chapter, "Black Life in
the Country," manages little more than to note the freedmen's passion for land,
recount a few black success stories, and generalize (mostly from secondary
sources) about plantation agriculture and the grim plight of the sharecropper.
Here’s what’s next.
Tools / Downloads
Get a copy of this page or view the extracted text.
Citing and Sharing
Reference the current page of this Periodical.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992, periodical, 1992; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117153/m1/616/?rotate=270: accessed July 29, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.