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The Arkansas freeman. [volume] : (Little Rock, Ark.) 1869-18??
Alternative Titles:
  • Freeman
Place of publication:
Little Rock, Ark.
Geographic coverage:
  • Little Rock, Pulaski, Arkansas  |  View more titles from this: City County, State
T. Gross
Dates of publication:
  • Began in Aug. 1869.
  • English
  • African American newspapers--Arkansas.
  • African American newspapers.--fast--(OCoLC)fst00799278
  • African Americans--Arkansas--Little Rock--Newspapers.
  • African Americans.--fast--(OCoLC)fst00799558
  • Arkansas--Little Rock.--fast--(OCoLC)fst01206922
  • Arkansas--Pulaski County.--fast--(OCoLC)fst01208517
  • Arkansas.--fast--(OCoLC)fst01204809
  • Little Rock (Ark.)--Newspapers.
  • Pulaski County (Ark.)--Newspapers.
  • Available on microfilm from the Library of Congress, Photoduplication Service.
  • Description based on: Vol. 1, no. 6 (Sept. 28, 1869).
  • Latest issue consulted: Vol. 1, no. 7 (Oct. 5, 1869).
sn 83025492
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The Arkansas freeman. [volume] September 28, 1869 , Image 1


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The Arkansas Freeman

Little Rock is the center of Arkansas both geographically and politically. It hosts the state capitol and Pulaski County seat along the south bank of the Arkansas River. The capital briefly withdrew from the city during the Civil War, but Little Rock quickly regained the governing seat after the war. Despite the resolution of the war, the political and social turmoil continued in the late 1800s during Reconstruction. Black Arkansans struggled to gain a foothold in society after the abolition of slavery. In 1868, Arkansas was the first Confederate state to allow Black men to vote. This contributed to the tumultuous political scene, as white voters worked to prevent Black men from utilizing their newly acquired voting rights.

Arkansas's first Black newspaper, the Arkansas Freeman began publication in 1869 amid this political instability. Leading up to the founding of the Freeman, Reconstruction policies enacted by U.S. Congress caused major political changes in Arkansas. These policies resulted in the political disenfranchisement of former Confederate officials and allowed Black men to vote. In 1868, new leadership was brought to the state, and Powell Clayton, a Pennsylvania Civil War soldier, was elected governor of Arkansas. A wave of political violence followed as former Confederates and the Ku Klux Klan tried to intimidate Black Republican voters from exercising their political rights. Nevertheless, by 1869, the political turmoil halted after Clayton declared martial law and organized state militias to stem the violence. The Morning Republican (1868-1872), a white owned newspaper and mouthpiece of the Powell regime, was widely read by Republicans throughout the state.

However, factions developed within the Republican Party as the turmoil of 1868 began to die down. One of the fissures was between white Republicans and Black Republicans. Even though former enslaved men in Arkansas made up a large percentage of the Republican vote in Arkansas, there were no state-wide Black officeholders and no Black-owned newspaper. In June 1869, a group of Black businesspeople and clergy met at City Hall in Little Rock to discuss opening their own newspaper to fill the gap. At first, the owners of the Morning Republican applauded the move. The Weekly Arkansas Gazette (1866-19??) joined in the acclaim, writing that it hoped that the new paper would separate Black voters from their devotion to the Powell administration. The organizers named the paper the Arkansas Freeman, designating it the first Black-owned newspaper in Arkansas.

The Freeman founders chose Tabbs Gross, a formerly enslaved man and later minister from Kentucky, newly arrived in Arkansas, to run the new newspaper. Gross purchased his freedom before the Civil War and traveled to Ohio to assist the efforts in freeingenslaved people via the Underground Railroad. After the war, he settled in Arkansas, working to assist newly freed men gain their political rights. He felt that Arkansas's Black population had little voice within the Radical faction of the Republican Party.

The paper launched in August of 1869 under Gross's declaration that it supported an end to disenfranchisement of former Confederates, universal male suffrage, and amnesty for Confederates. These issues were at odds with the Clayton administration. Soon, a war of words erupted between the Arkansas Freeman and the Morning Republican. In the first issue of the paper, Gross declared that the Arkansas Freeman stood for an end to disenfranchisement of Southern whites, "who are unjustly deprived of many of the rights and privileges we enjoy." Additionally, he advised Black voters should end their "blind loyalty" to the Radical position and forge a new path based on political rights for all Arkansans. Further, he emphasized that Black citizens in Little Rock made up 90 percent of the party, yet Black Republicans held no offices in city government. In response, editors of the Morning Republican replied that Gross was a traitor. His political standing with the Republican Party began to fail. As a result, readership declined and the paper closed in the summer of 1870, after less than a year of publication.

As of this writing, there are only a few surviving issues of the Freeman. This is the case for many Black newspapers, as past archival organizations were often neglectful of preserving the Black community’s written heritage, and the newspapers did not survive. When newspapers disappear, Black voices are forever lost, leaving a large gap in the understanding of our history.

Provided by: Arkansas State Archives