The Civil War radically changed the lives of all Arkansans, especially those of African descent. Across the country freed Africans were no longer property or simply viewed as a part of the South’s agrarian society. The war destroyed a society and an economy that had enslaved Africans and used them as chattel property.
“Freedom! Oh, Freedom!” tells a story of transformation, as it will allow visitors the opportunity to explore the African American perspective of the Civil War from the lens of slavery, the contributions of African American soldiers, and what happened through and after the Reconstruction Era.
The transformation was not swift or seamless as the United States government made empty promises to the newly freed African Americans, however in the aftermath of the Civil War Arkansas’s African Americans seized new opportunities and freedoms to create a new way of life as citizens of the United States. African Americans used the war to participate in their own emancipation. Former enslaved people experienced not only physical liberation from the ties of slavery, but a transformation of the spirit from bondage to freedom.
African American politicians emerged after the war ended and took seats in the state general assembly in 1869. The state general assembly even passed the Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1873, which provided for equal access to all public institutions and outlawed segregation. However, as Reconstruction came to an end in 1874, Democrats replaced Republicans and began altering the civil rights laws and enacting segregationist policies in their place. African Americans maintained some representation in the general assembly until 1893, but it was nearly a century later when Arkansans elected another African American to the legislature in 1973. The fight for full equality, the fight for justice,and the fight for civil rights had just begun.
This exhibit was made possible through a grant from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resource Council, funded by the Arkansas Real Estate Transfer Tax. All pictures are courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission.
The Mosaic Templars Cultural Center is an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.