|Date(s):||March 1867 to January 1868|
|Tag(s):||African-Americans, Economy, Education, Government, Law, Politics, Race-Relations, Slavery, War|
|Course:||“Rise And Fall of the Slave South,” University of Virginia|
In January 1868, black and white men came together for the first time in a legislative body in Arkansas to discuss the state's re-entry into the Union.The participating delegates consisted of 47 Arkansas whites, 17 outside whites, and eight African Americans.According to Richard L. Hume, the Arkansas convention was unique, however, because it contained extensive debates about the role of race.The Civil War raged on, yet Arkansas was already underway of Reconstruction and improving race relations.Jesse N. Cypert, a southern white man from White County, pressed for ratification of a constitution excluding black suffrage, while William H. Grey, a black from Phillips County, advocated for black suffrage.Grey's arguments were rational, thought provoking, and supported by substantial evidence, and the convention approved black suffrage.Grey was treated as a gentleman and, at least in this convention, as an equal.The reigning president insisted that Grey be addressed Mr. ----, from ---- County the same way that the white delegates were addressed.Cypert's excuse for unequal address was that He had spoken of him as a negro, because he was such.
This rationale of racial equality reflects much of the Reconstruction South; it was hard for white southerners to abandon suddenly all previous prejudices.Yet, Grey proved his intelligence and deserved respect through his long oration on the reasons blacks deserved the right to vote.He based the majority of this argument on the idea that poor white southerners were worse off than many African Americans.To convince his peers of this idea, he quoted many South Carolina politicians and a Georgia judge who questioned the ignorance of these poor whites.For example, he quotes William Gregg who, in 1851, stated to the South Carolina Institute that he put[s] down the white people, who ought to work, and who do not, or who are so employed as to be wholly unproductive of State.Grey points out that blacks wanted to work and be productive members of society, yet this ignorant group of white southerners was granted more rights than his own race.
The Reconstruction Acts of March 1867 forced southern states to comply with the North to attain readmission to the Union.Hume notes that Arkansas was one of the former rebellious states to undergo a Constitutional Convention to discuss politics and bridge together opposing factions.Among these factions was the meeting of whites and blacks in a political sphere for the first time since emancipation.This instance shows the small, successful steps made during Reconstruction for black suffrage in a southern state; at the Arkansas Constitutional Convention, Grey epitomized the intelligent free black who desired large changes in southern society.According to John B. Boles, white southerners varied along class lines, and the poor white yeoman farmer or the poor white southerner were in a class separate from the slave-owning farmer or plantation owner.Boles narrates that their economic situation resulted in less education, and poor white southerners suffered substantially during the Civil War years.Using the inequality of whites along intellectual and socio-economic lines, Grey aptly proved to his peers African Americans' right to both respect and suffrage.Grey supported his arguments about blacks' deserved equality by exposing the contradictions in southern society.His victory over a bigoted Cypert was a victory not only for Arkansas, but also for African Americans who were now free and struggling with their newfound emancipation in a discriminatory nation.Such minor victories would be hope for blacks across the South, as acts of injustice dominated southern society for years to come.