The Great South - Down the Mississippi


The colored citizens of Little Rock, and of Arkansas in general, number many gentlemen of education and refinement. The superintendent of the penitentiary, the commissioner of State lands, the superintendent of public instruction, some of the State senators, police judges, and many preachers of excellent ability are colored men. Among these gentlemen are graduates of Harvard University, of Oberlin, and of many of the best Western schools. A large proportion of the colored people at Little Rock own their homes, which are mainly in the third ward, whence two aldermen,—black men and slaves up to the war, but now worth from $5,000 to $10,000 each,—are sent up to the Council.

At Helena and Little Rock there have been many noteworthy instances of progress among the negroes. This is not so common in the back country, although some of the counties have colored sheriffs and clerks. One of the most intelligent of his race in the State told me that the negroes had, as a rule, a horror of clearing up new land, and that they had been a good deal hindered from undertaking cotton farming by the lack of means to begin with — this requiring quite an outlay. The large land-holders, too, have generally been averse to selling land in small parcels. For these reasons the country negroes are mainly “hired laborers, working on shares, or tenants by rental, payable in produce.” In either case the landlord often furnishes the supplies of food, seed and stock, and at the annual settlement has the lion’s share of the proceeds, the laborers making little more than their living for the year. A very reliable colored man told me that if the freedmen of Arkansas had made less progress since the war than those of the elder States since emancipation, he believed it to be because the white population of Arkansas was also, in many respects, behind that of the other States, being more sparsely settled and isolated, without large towns, railroads, and other improving agencies. The educational societies of the North had comparatively neglected the State.

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