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Chronicling America Topic Guides

The Arkansas Digital Newspaper Project team has created Arkansas-specific topic guides for popular research topics in Chronicling America. Guides include a history of the topic, common search terms, selected newspaper articles, timeline of significant dates and additional educational resources and lesson plans.

Apples were the dominant crop in Northwestern Arkansas in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The apple industry had a significant impact not only in the Northwest but on the entire state, so much so that in 1901 the apple blossom was chosen as the state flower. By the 1930s, however, multiple factors contributed to the decline of Arkansas' apple industry and the apple boom was over.

Arkansas’s abundant forests presented obstacles and opportunity for early European settlers. Clearing trees for settlements and farms by axe and saw was slow and laborious, but yielded the raw lumber needed for houses, barns, fences, and furniture. Advances in technology were used to improve timber processing, and by the 1850s steam powered sawmills were common across Arkansas. In the late 1800s, timber companies began using trains to expand their operations and export lumber state and nationwide.

Racial tension in Arkansas was high at the end of the Civil War. Though the South had been defeated and slavery was abolished, the lingering effects of slavery and racism continued. The changing economy and polarizing political climate caused social unrest, which turned into racial violence targeted at Black Arkansans. The first race riots and race wars in Arkansas followed soon after.

Arkansas' rivers and lakes are home to many species of freshwater mollusks that produce pearls. Native Americans were the first to collect pearls in what would later become Arkansas. As European settlers pushed Native Americans out of Arkansas Territory, mussels were largely left alone, and pearls built up for years without being harvested. Eventually the new inhabitants realized that Arkansas' mollusks created valuable pearls, and in the late 1800s the pearl craze began.

The first all-Black military units in Arkansas were formed in 1863 during the Civil War. Though Black Arkansans were allowed to join the military, they were typically given inferior jobs and segregated from white troops. Black troops were expected to perform at the same level as white troops while facing unfair and unequal treatment. Despite this inequality, Black divisions were an important part of the U.S. military until its desegregation after World War II.

The first report of enslaved Black people in Arkansas Territory came from French colonists in the early 1700s. Slavery was a major part of the early economic development in Arkansas, with significant slave labor occurring on large plantations throughout the state. The use of forced labor allowed for the rapid expansion of cotton farming, which added close to $16 million to the Arkansas economy each year. By 1860 the state was the sixth largest producer of cotton, and 25% of Arkansas' population was enslaved.

An industrialization increased across the U.S. in the late 1800s and early 1900s, so did efforts to improve working conditions and pay. Workers formed unions, banding together to negotiate with their employers. Railroad workers were some of the first laborers in Arkansas to unionize. Labor strikes, that is withholding labor, were one of the tactics used by employees and unions during negotiations for better treatment. Strikes often turned dangerous, as workers resorted to sabotage and clashed with company men, law officers and government militia. During the railroad's Golden Age at the turn of the 20th century, there were many minor and two major railroad strikes in Arkansas.

The Memphis and Little Rock (M&LR) was the only working railroad in Arkansas when the Civil War began in 1861. It was still under construction, but the company planned to connect central Arkansas at Huntersville (now North Little Rock), on the Arkansas River, to the eastern edge of Arkansas at Hopefield, across the Mississippi River from Memphis, Tennessee. This rout would link the central Arkansas to the major Memphis port. The M&LR continued construction during the first few years of the Civil War, but progress eventually came to a standstill. The M&LR was commandeered by Union and Confederate Armies over the course of the war.

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