In 1856, a trial was held in the Washington County courthouse in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Three enslaved African American young males, Randall and Anthony who were about 25 years old, and Aaron, fifteen, were accused of murdering Dr. James Monroe Boone whose enslaved people camp was in present day Elkins. The sons of Boone, Lafayette and Benjamin Boone were lawyers of the court brought the suit that history has proven to be a sham trial to cover up an act of rape by their father. Randall was found guilty and sentenced to be killed by the court, but Aaron and Anthony were acquitted.
Benjamin and Lafayette and a group of white people from nearby plantations kidnapped Aaron and Anthony from jail and lynched them in public, by personally tying the noose around their necks. There are no records available about how Boone came to own Aaron and Anthony, but it is possible that his heirs felt entitled to kill them since they were considered property. Documents such as wills and probate records suggest that Aaron and Anthony were likely subjected to hard labor and mistreatment during their time in slavery.
The search for descendants or relatives of Aaron, Anthony, and Randall has not been completed. The African American perspective is essential in this research and in its interpretation. The late Chinua Achebe said in 1994, "There is that great proverb — that until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter."
In Northwest Arkansas, several towns were known to be sundown towns, including Springdale, Rogers, Siloam Springs, Eureka Springs, Elkins, Elm Springs, and many others surrounding Fayetteville. These towns actively worked to keep Black people out by the threat of violence and other means, including preventing land/home ownership. Once the largest center of slavery in Northwest Arkansas, Cane Hill became economically depressed after the Civil War with the emancipation of the comparably immense workforce of formerly enslaved people. There was some attempt at continuing to crop, but the promised train line was diverted, and although some African Americans stayed on to work the fields, sharecropping as a system was still one of servitude and crookedness, causing many Black people to relocate to Fayetteville. There, Henderson School provided education for Blacks. African American communities existed; there were African American churches, and jobs, albeit menial. Though Fayetteville elementary schools were segregated until 1965, people were threatened with death or violence as a spoken or unspoken City policy.
Sundown towns, like Springdale, had signs posted signs at the town's entrances warning Black people not to stay after dark. Black people who were caught in town after dark were often subjected to harassment, violence, or arrest. Similarly, in Rogers, there were unofficial curfews in place that prevented Black people from being out after dark. Black people who were found in the town after night were often chased out or beaten. (Fayetteville is where everyone came to live. The three Green Book residencies-Black hotels were in Fayetteville).
These sundown towns were created by white people who wanted to keep their communities racially "pure" and free of Black people. This practice was a form of racism and segregation that lasted for many years. Recent efforts show that Northwest Arkansas is attempting to recover from eliminating African Americans from the region. Today, these towns are more diverse and welcoming to people of all races; however, the legacy of sundown towns can still be felt in these communities. Understanding the history of racial inequality and injustice in Northwest Arkansas and beyond is essential.
During the Jim Crow era, many parts of the United States were racially segregated, and Black people faced discrimination and violence while traveling. To help Black travelers navigate this hostile environment, a man named Victor Hugo Green created a guidebook called the "Negro Motorist Green Book," or simply the "Green Book." The Green Book listed businesses that were friendly to Black travelers, such as hotels, restaurants, and gas stations. It also provided information about safe places to stay and where to avoid. The guidebook was essential for Black travelers who were often turned away from businesses or faced violence if they ventured into white neighborhoods.
In Northwest Arkansas, the Green Book was especially important because the region was known for its sundown towns, where Black people were not welcome after dark. The Green Book provided Black travelers with a list of safe places to stay and eat, and helped them avoid dangerous areas. Today, the Green Book serves as a reminder of the racism and discrimination that Black people faced during the Jim Crow era. Many museums and historical sites have exhibits about the Green Book, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.