In the later half of 1897 and into the beginning of 1898, Black Americans experienced terrible conditions in Lonoke County, Arkansas. One of the black teachers at a school for aspiring teachers was brutally beaten during the summer. The above-mentioned teacher was discovered dead in September. All black residents in the county received notes on their doors in February 1898 advising them to leave the area out of fear for their lives. It’s thought that arson caused damage to a number of black citizens’ homes and schools.
However, the problems began during the Reconstruction. Many accounts of the events of 1898 make reference to an earlier occurrence that occurred twenty or twenty-five years earlier and is thought to have been the root of most of the trouble. “Two black guys robbed hogs from wealthy farmer Dock Eagle in November 1873. James Sullivan, Eagle, and two of his relatives pursued the guys, “took them in charge,” and then returned home. The two black guys, who were attacked by the Ku Klux Klan, managed to flee, and they told their neighbors about it.
Thirty African Americans were gathered into a posse by the local black males, and they started out to find their assailants. Eagle assembled a posse in the meanwhile to apprehend the robbers. Eagle’s crew unexpectedly ran into the African Americans afterwards. After exchanging gunfire, Sullivan was critically wounded and all three Eagle members died.
Dock Gray, one of the men, managed to get away and inform the local sheriff. When the sheriff and his posse came, they discovered victims without valuables, horses, and weapons. To find the black killers, a mob organized a search party, but the posse had problems locating the individuals. Once more, this is thought to be the catalyst for the racial unrest. As a result, it is thought that the murder of the Eagle men was carried out as retaliation by the family of the men who were killed.
A white mob attacked a black normal school in June 1897, plundered it, and carried Professor D. T. Watson into the woods where they severely assaulted him. The state superintendent of public instruction and the attorney general of Arkansas appear to have launched an investigation in response to this occurrence. The mob informed the black people that they wanted them to cut cotton, that they had received enough education, and that conventional schools were too demanding for black people, according to a later report in the Arizona Republican. Watson went missing in September and was reportedly “mysteriously murdered.”
There were many African Americans who packed up their families and moved out of Lonoke County, but there were others who had lived in the county for years and refused to leave.