Archives Spotlight: Harold Sherman

My files contain thousands of letters from people in all walks of life – under all manner of stresses and strains.  –Harold Sherman, letter to Dr. J.B. Rhine, August 5, 1944.


The University of Central Arkansas Archives contains a variety of collections, and one of the most requested collections is the Harold Sherman Collection (M87-08).  Born July 13, 1898, Harold Sherman hailed from Traverse City, Michigan before moving to:  Chicago, Illinois; New York City, New York; and finally settling in Arkansas in 1947.  

While in New York, Sherman began writing scripts for radio programs, with the hope of securing corporate sponsorship from established household brands such as Jergens Lotion, Vick Products, and Frigidaire.  

Beyond radio programs Sherman wrote plays, some of which were performed on Broadway.  “Choose Your Partner” and “Mark Twain” dramatized the life of author Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) due to the acquisition of exclusive rights from the Mark Twain Estate.  Sherman’s rights through the Mark Twain Estate also included the invaluable assistance of Clemens’ daughter–Clara Clemens Gabrilowitsch.  The plays garnered much attention, subsequently offering Sherman the opportunity to pen a screenplay for the silver screen.  Warner Brothers produced the cinematic dramatization of Samuel Clemens’ life, The Adventures of Mark Twain (1944) for audiences nationwide.


I have had tremendous pleasure in reading your play which certainly has been written with great care and sensitive understanding of the different members of my family. Clara (Clemens) Gabrilowitsch, letter to Harold Sherman, August 24, 1936.


Another cinematic offering from Sherman was Are We Civilized? (1934).  Despite being produced by an independent production company, Civilized holds several distinctions, one of which includes being one of the last pre-Code films released to American cinemas.  Civilized premiered June 6, 1934, and with the creation of the Production Code Administration, rigid enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code began July 1, 1934 (despite the Code existing since 1930).  

Civilized was one of only two films released in the United States which criticized Adolf Hitler and his rise to power in Germany, and questioned the validity of a dictatorship.  Almost concurrently with the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code, Paul von Hindenburg died August 2, 1934, with Hitler named as his political heir.  Through the use of the popular referendum for a second time on August 19, 1934, the powers of the President were conferred to that of the Chancellor, Hitler’s position at the time. Civilized delivered thinly veiled criticism of antisemitism, specifically that of Hitler and Nazi Germany, and anticipated another world war.  

Image from Are We Civilized? (1934). From the Harold Sherman Collection.

A key scene provides viewers with an arresting dramatization of the Berlin book burnings of 1933; the local censorship bureau, along with a mob of townsfolk, attack the World News Association building and subsequently purge the building of its publications, namely books, and set the pile on fire.  One of the main characters, Paul Franklin, Sr. spends most of the film philosophizing the true nature of civilization and posing the question–Are we civilized?  While imploring the group to reconsider their beliefs, Franklin, Sr. is hit in the head with a projectile hurled by one of the onlookers, symbolic of the punishments meted out to those who dared question those in power.

The film’s opening message addressing the social problems of the emerging Third Reich provide the audience with what Sherman believed was a remedy to the increasing intolerance found within Hitler’s Germany:


Throughout the ages ignorance, superstition, greed, and intolerance have been the greatest enemies of Civilization. Today Mankind is combating these destructive forces with freedom of speech and freedom of the press, ever seeking a great freedom of thought and expression.


Labeled a “message film”, Civilized was but one example of a common theme found within the Sherman materials, that of self-reflection to address and provide solutions to social problems, be it through a critique of foreign regimes or through individual introspection.

In addition to radio programs and screenplays, Sherman wrote self-help books ranging from topics such as finding one’s own happiness, coping with death, relationship advice, and battling addiction.  Sherman’s words provided advice through various stages of life, and through a variety of difficult situations, which impacted the everyday individual as well as well-known figures such as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.  In a February 26, 1945 news column, Roosevelt praised Sherman’s Your Key to Youth Problems


…which I think many people will find valuable reading.  It is full of common sense, and if we stopped to think we would realize much that he tells us for ourselves.

Instead of taking refuge in the belief that other people are at fault, as we often do, we might find the reasons for our difficulties very often in ourselves.


Sherman saw the uncertainty which affected post-war Americans and wished to provide an avenue in which the adjustment from life deeply rooted in the war effort to that of “normalcy” would be one of calm introspection through his printed words.  Moreover, Sherman wished to provide a “program designed to feed the mind as we now feed the body,” recognizing that mental health was as important as physical health.  As a result, Sherman’s Your Key series ranged from youth problems to married life.  So prolific was Sherman’s Your Key to Happiness (1935) that he received numerous letters from those incarcerated, praising his work decades after its original publication.

Other offerings from Sherman included young adult fiction which focused on recreational sports, as well as science fiction which focused on the possibility of extraterrestrials, and nonfiction which explored extrasensory perception (ESP).  

The Green Man: A Visitor from Outer Space (1946) posited a world in which extraterrestrials existed and communicated with humans; in this science fiction work by Sherman, Numar, the green man, held the distinction of being the first extraterrestrial to contact Earth.  The Green Man included references to differing elements of popular culture, or that which simply captured Sherman’s interest, and seemingly coalesced into a miniature version of the Harold Sherman Collection.  Sherman included Eleanor Roosevelt’s “My Day” news column; Hollywood was represented in the form of talent agents from MGM and Warner Brothers; and Numar, who possessed telepathic and telekinetic abilities, traveled within the United States to locations which held personal significance to Sherman. 

How to Make ESP Work for You (1964), How to Solve Mysteries of Your Mind and Soul (1965), and other works of Sherman explored the ways in which individuals could explore their own ESP capabilities. 


My BASIC INTEREST, however, is in the practical utilization of these higher powers of mind in the meeting of every day problems… Harold Sherman, letter to Dr. J.B. Rhine, November 6, 1944.


Sherman’s work on ESP was so prolific, he has been considered a pioneer of the study.  Collaborations with others in the field resulted in numerous experiments and projects involving aspects of ESP such as telepathy.  In 1937 Sherman and Arctic explorer and photographer, Sir Hubert Wilkins conducted long-distance telepathic experiments, which were published in Cosmopolitan Magazine and collectively as Thoughts Through Space (1942).  Sherman remained in New York City while Wilkins searched for lost Russian aviators in the Arctic; Sherman received “hundreds of telepathic impressions” which were “photographically accurate” under the supervision of Dr. Gardner Murphy.


I have unbounded respect for Sir Hubert Wilkins who risked his scientific reputation to conduct these experiments with me. Harold Sherman, letter to Dr. J.B. Rhine, February 7, 1948.


They captured the attention of Dr. J.B. Rhine, a professor at Duke University who founded parapsychology as a subfield of psychology.  Sherman and Rhine corresponded about ESP topics such as telepathy and psychokinesis, specifically with the use of Zener cards to test for telepathy and of the human mind determining the roll of a dice via psychokinesis.  

In 1971, Sherman continued his use of the Zener cards in an experiment which involved Captain Edgar Mitchell, who was selected in 1966 by NASA for their Apollo missions; Mitchell worked as a part of the Apollo 13 Mission Operations Team before serving as Lunar Module Pilot on Apollo 14 in February of 1971.  During his mission on the moon, Mitchell conducted an experiment by telepathically transmitting zener cards drawn from a deck to Olaf Jonnson on Earth.  Sherman was to attempt to also receive Mitchell’s transmissions via telepathy and record the impressions.  


“…I admire your taking the one step which may lead to a giant leap into INNER space!” Harold Sherman, letter to Capt. Edgar Mitchell, July 30, 1971.


Example of a Zener card. From the Harold Sherman Collection.

Mitchell quickly moved from a general fan of Sherman’s works; Sherman’s How to Make ESP Work for You (1964) resonated with Mitchell, resulting in correspondence between the two men, which led to their partnership in ESP experiments and the desire to contribute further advancements within the field of ESP as well as unite the varying foundations and organizations which studied parapsychology.

While in Arkansas, Sherman became involved with state and local politics, often writing to various legislators including Congressman Wilbur D. Mills, Senator J.W. Fulbright, Governors Sid McMath, Orval Faubus, and Dale Bumpers.  As a citizen of Stone County, Sherman advocated and was instrumental in the county receiving infrastructural improvements.  

In Stone County, Sherman also crossed paths with Ozark folk musician, Jimmy Driftwood (the Archives’ other most requested collection), who would become a close friend.  This friendship and exposure to Ozark culture undoubtedly influenced Sherman’s decision to collaborate with Driftwood on the play “Yankee in Wonderland” in 1954.  


Martha and I have just finished playing your recordings of YANKEE IN WONDERLAND and you have done a magnificent job.  Made us homesick for our little home in the Ozarks… Harold Sherman, letter to Jimmy Morris (Driftwood), February 8, 1955.


Sherman also wrote a television pilot depicting rural Arkansas in “The Amazing Adventures of My Dog Sheppy” (1958); however, despite generous funding from then Governor Orval Faubus, the pilot never reached audiences beyond Batesville, Arkansas.

To understand Harold Sherman is to understand the definition of persistence.  Throughout his long career, Sherman persisted against rejection, critics, and failure.  Whatever new idea he had for a new project, Sherman shared it with those within his immediate circle, and with those beyond because he saw value in what he created, not only for himself, but for others as well.  The potential Sherman saw within his creations is evidenced in the responses he received from Old Hollywood executives, former astronauts, politicians, Grammy winning musicians, and individuals ranging from a First Lady to those incarcerated.  

The wide ranging audiences Sherman appealed to highlight another key aspect of his collection–that of being multifaceted not only amongst those consuming Sherman’s contributions into popular culture, but the varying topics which interested him and thus was the genesis of that multifaceted persona which still interests researchers today.

Author:  Shelbea Gentry   |   Editor:  Phoenix Smithey

For additional reading, sources used in the article:

*The Harold Sherman Collection (M87-08). University of Central Arkansas Archives.

*Blevins, Brooks. Hill Folks: A History of Arkansas Ozarkers & Their Image. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Doherty, Thomas Patrick. Pre Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930-1934. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.,+Immorality,+and+Insurrection+in+American+Cinema,+1930-1934&printsec=frontcover

Shurlock, Geoffrey. “The Motion Picture Production Code.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 254 (1947): 140–46.

Zurcher, Arnold J. “The Hitler Referenda.” The American Political Science Review 29, no. 1 (1935): 91–99.

Are We Civilized? (1934) – Turner Classic Movies

*An asterisk indicates the material is located within the UCA Archives for patron browsing.

UCA Women’s History: Constance Mitchell & Dr. Ada Jane Harvey – “Constant Companions” Part II

“Any college undoubtedly has pioneers worthy of respect by students and faculty, but certainly, Ms. Mitchell and Ms. Harvey were two faculty members who helped to lay a solid foundation of scholarship for State Teachers College…” –LaNell Compton, former student.


This edition of From the Archives highlights two important women within the UCA community.  When the University of Central Arkansas was the Arkansas State Normal School (ASNS), Dr. Ada Jane Harvey headed the Foreign Languages department, and Constance Mitchell taught English courses.  This week concludes the series with Dr. Ada Jane Harvey.

Dr. Ada Jane Harvey, born in 1890, earned her bachelor’s degree from Occidental College (Los Angeles, CA).  She earned her master’s degree from the University of Chicago (Chicago, IL), and her doctorate from New York University (New York, NY), additionally she attended the University of Paris (Paris, France), the University of New Mexico (Albuquerque, NM), and the University of San Marcus (Lima, Peru). 

Dr. Ada Jane Harvey.

Dr. Ada Jane Harvey.

Dr. Harvey taught French and Spanish with the Little Rock School District, specifically Little Rock High School, where she met fellow teacher, Constance Mitchell in 1918.  Approximately two years after Dr. B.W. Torreyson offered Constance a position with the ASNS, Dr. Harvey accepted a post within the foreign languages department.  Mitchell and Harvey shared an apartment before purchasing a house together, located at 703 Donaghey Avenue, for approximately $3000.00.

Dr. Harvey taught French and Spanish courses and served as sponsor for both the French and Spanish clubs on campus.   

A unique example of Harvey’s dedication to teaching through immersive experiences was her 1935 creation of an immersive summer camp, Le Camp Français, at the newly completed Petit Jean State Park.  According to former student and camp attendee, Anna Loe Russell, credit for courses at Arkansas State Teachers College (ASTC, formerly Arkansas State Normal School) was given upon completion of Le Camp Français.  Dr. Harvey taught classes in the living room of her cabin, students spoke French at all times–in class, on walks, while swimming, and during meals.  In addition to Le Camp Français, Harvey volunteered to chaperone an annual trip to New Orleans

Anna Loe Russell's, Le Camp Français scrapbook.

Anna Loe Russell’s, Le Camp Français scrapbook.

Le Camp Français at Petit Jean State Park.

Le Camp Français at Petit Jean State Park.

Former student Flora Martin Walher Cox recalled that Dr. Harvey’s immersive pursuits extended to the Spanish Club; Dr. Harvey would plan a biennial reenactment of the Running of the Bulls on campus as part of a more immersive experience while learning a foreign language.  The event included authentic costumes and performances of traditional songs.  Flora stated that the vigorous learning experiences provided practical use on her farm, where she “was able to communicate with 30 men during the cotton picking and chopping seasons who had come from Mexico…”

Grace Vineyard recalled two summers spent in Mexico with Dr. Harvey and other students, “Ada Jane MADE everyone go places and learn to speak Spanish.”  While attending courses at the University in Mexico City, one specifically took Dr. Harvey and the students on trips to “hospitals, poverty areas…” in order to truly experience the city as a local instead of as a tourist. 

Beyond her contributions to the foreign languages department, Dr. Harvey actively participated in the Conway chapter of the American Association of University Women.  The purpose of AAUW was to provide opportunities for the advancement of academic pursuits for women. Harvey served as president in 1946, shortly before ASTC alumnae became eligible for membership in 1951, according to Hanna Eloise Rhode.   Constance and Ada were honored for their contributions to the Conway branch with a “Fellowship named in their honor, which meant that Conway Branch AAUW contributed money to the Fellowship Fund.”  

From the Log Cabin Democrat, Monday, April 10, 1972.

From the Log Cabin Democrat, Monday, April 10, 1972.

Considering Ada and Constance frequently provided room and partial board to female students attending what would become the University of Central Arkansas, participation in this organization aligned with their personal philosophy which manifested in their frequent acts of kindness and generosity.  

Former student Ruby Coxsey Huie recalled that not only did Dr. Harvey display incredible patience towards her in the classroom, Harvey also offered her room and partial board during a financially difficult time during the 1936-1938 school years.  “In May Dr. Harvey asked if I planned to go to summer school.  Before I could tell her that I could not afford it, she said: “Ruby, Dr. Mitchell will be away this summer, and I plan to keep three college girls.  Why don’t you stay with me…If you can buy your lunch and pay your college expenses, we’ll manage.”  Ruby’s parents covered her expenses, and with Dr. Harvey’s offer of room and partial board, she earned six more hours of French courses.  When faced additional struggles to obtain her degree, Ruby recollected that Dr. Harvey “arranged for me to get credit for a tutorial in French novels.  We met weekly and I made reports and took tests as in a regular class.”

Dr. Harvey’s legacy extended beyond the foreign languages department on campus; found within a collection of anonymous remembrances of Ada and Constance, one entry stated that:


Ada Jane founded the Faculty wives club…they would buy books for their library, the club women would read them first, then they were placed in the UCA library.  This was the first fiction in the library…because the school budget didn’t include fiction.  They built a remarkable collection.  


Ada & Constance's car, dubbed "Nicolette."

Ada & Constance’s car, dubbed “Nicolette.”

Though Dr. Ada Jane Harvey retired in 1955, she and Constance continued to travel to Constance’s family cabin, abroad to London and Paris.  According to Constance she and Ada would travel “as long as the money holds out.”  Ada and Constance also hosted the Bridge World Olympics, during which Ada won a prize.  The duo also attended races at Oaklawn in Hot Springs, traveling in the automobile they co-owned, dubbed “Nicolette.” 

When the pair stayed in, they hosted lunches and dinners, some of which had themes coordinating with the type of cuisine served.  “If it was a French menu, they put out French dolls from Paris” as table decoration.

Le Camp Français at Petit Jean State Park.

Le Camp Français at Petit Jean State Park.

LaNell Compton recollected seeing Dr. Harvey at Contance’s funeral, “ I noticed her sitting there, but they didn’t want anyone to try to speak to her at the funeral for fear that she would get confused again and go through a lot of distraction and pain, etc.”  Ada seemed to suffer from dementia and had “reached the point that she could hardly remember anything.”  Constance bequeathed to Ada a trust for the maintenance of her dear friend during her lifetime.  

Approximately four years after Constance’s passing, Dr. Ada Jane Harvey died March 13, 1980.  Ada willed the money she received upon Constance’s death to Constance’s estate to be “divided among her legatees.”  An excerpt from her funeral meditation describes the special bond the two shared and their legacy left in those they helped:


Ada has gone to join with Constance in the Church Triumphant…we gather to thank God for the life of Ada, as we did for Constance…a life that was full of joy, of sparkle, of exuberance, a life that was optimistic, that looked for the best.


Burial plot of Dr. Ada Jane Harvey, Constance Mitchell, and Constance Mitchell's parents at The Historic Oak Grove Cemetery.

Burial plot of Dr. Ada Jane Harvey, Constance Mitchell, and Constance Mitchell’s parents at The Historic Oak Grove Cemetery.

The “constant companions” were inseparable while living, as well as in death.  The two women share a family plot, where one will find Dr. Harvey, Constance Mitchell’s parents, and Constance Mitchell at The Historic Oak Grove Cemetery located on Bruce Street, Conway, Arkansas.


For more information about Dr. Ada Jane Harvey or Constance Mitchell, see:  M89-28, M89-29, SMC 148, and SMC 1647. 

Author:  Shelbea Gentry

Contributor:  Danielle Kraus (research)

Editor:  Daniel Klotz

UCA Women’s History: Constance Mitchell & Dr. Ada Jane Harvey –”Constant Companions” Part I

Part I of this edition of From the Archives highlights the first of two important women within the UCA community.  When the University of Central Arkansas was the Arkansas State Normal School, Constance Mitchell taught English courses, and Dr. Ada Jane Harvey headed the Foreign Languages department.   This week we focus on Constance Mitchell.

Constance Mitchell, born in 1888, earned her bachelor’s degree from Illinois Wesleyan University (Bloomington, IL).  She earned her master’s degree in English from George Peabody College (Nashville, TN) and a library science degree from the University of Illinois.  Constance Mitchell taught English at Little Rock High School where she met French teacher, Ada Jane Harvey.  Approximately the same time Constance Mitchell met Ada Harvey, Constance met Dr. B.W. Torreyson, who “almost immediately” offered her a job at ASNS in 1919.  According to Mitchell, she “debated a long time” before accepting Torreyson’s offer.  Upon Constance’s acceptance of a position within the English department, Torreyson soon added French to the curriculum and asked Mitchell for recommendations for a qualified instructor.  Recently conferred a Ph.D, Dr. Ada Jane Harvey was offered the position.  The pair shared an apartment as roommates before purchasing a house together at 703 Donaghey Avenue.  

Mitchell taught English and Library Science courses.  Constance Mitchell, described as an optimist and enthusiastic teacher by many former students, was voted as most popular teacher in 1921, only two years after accepting a position with the English department. 

Constance Mitchell, 1923-1924 ASTC Hiking Club.

Constance Mitchell, 1923-1924 ASTC Hiking Club.


Seemingly every semester Harvey and Mitchell offered room and partial board to female students under financial constraints, as well as offering assistance to male students.  During a meeting at the First Presbyterian Church in 1986, a former student recalled, “Students lived with them–and they seemed to spoil each one of them.  Once a student had associated with them, the student was assured a college degree–if they worked hard–for they helped many financially…but seldom talked about it.”  

Flora Martin Walher Cox, a former student from 1926, noted that “Mitchell made the characters and situation come so alive for us that…I felt well prepared to start my 16 years of teaching English literature.”  Walher Cox continued, “Dr. Harvey and Miss Mitchell were both deeply respected and loved by students, teachers and residents all over the state of Arkansas and also other states.”

Constance Mitchell also coached women’s basketball on campus.  In 2008, The Centennial History of the University of Central Arkansas, noted that Mitchell held the third highest percentage of wins in UCA Women’s Basketball history, during the 1920-1931 seasons.  Ten years after her time as coach, Mitchell served as head librarian from 1941 until her retirement in 1954.  

Constance Mitchell, back row center. ASTC State Champions, 1929.

Constance Mitchell, back row center. ASTC State Champions, 1929.

Mitchell quickly established herself as an invaluable part of Torreyson Library.  Dr. Nolen Irby, Arkansas State Teachers College (formerly ASNS) President, was quoted as saying, “She’ll get down there at Little Rock and they’ll like her so well they’ll try to make an offer she can’t turn down and we’ll be looking for a librarian,” when faced with temporarily loaning Constance’s expertise as librarian to the Arkansas State Library Commission.  

Fortunately for Dr. Irby, and ASTC, Mitchell returned after her few months serving as a graduate librarian.  One of Mitchell’s proudest accomplishments on campus was the creation of The Arkansas Room (forerunner of the UCA Archives and Special Collections) within the library.  The Arkansas Room opened in the summer of 1950, based on the donation of books and papers by Joe Frauenthal, a trustee on the College Board.  The Frauenthal donation resided in a “small, locked display cabinet.”  A second donation of Arkansas material from Judge J.S. Utley’s estate necessitated both collections be properly catalogued for a special section within the library.  At the time the ASTC Arkansas Room was considered one of the three best semi-public collections of Arkansas material within the state, with the key distinction of being the most accessible of all.

Before and after her retirement from ASTC, Constance travelled to her family cabin in Virginia, as well as abroad to London and Paris, with Ada.  The pair also played in bridge tournaments all over the country, including hosting one in Conway.  The duo went to Oaklawn races in Hot Springs in the automobile they co-owned, a 1939 Chevy.  Constance loved the vehicle so much she wrote an ode entitled, “The Song of Old Faithful.”  When the pair stayed in, they hosted lunches and dinners often with themes following the type of cuisine served.  “If it was a French menu, they put out French dolls from Paris” on the table as decoration.

From The Log Cabin Democrat, Monday, April 10, 1972.

From The Log Cabin Democrat, Monday, April 10, 1972.

Before her death, Constance Mitchell bequeathed all of “my tangible personal property including furnishing and furniture in our home for her use and benefit” as well as established a trust for the maintenance and support of her “beloved friend,” Ada Jane Harvey.  Constance Mitchell is buried at The Historic Oak Grove Cemetery on Bruce Street in Conway, Arkansas.


For more information about Constance Mitchell or Ada Jane Harvey, see: M89-28, M89-29, SMC 148, and SMC 1647. 

Author:  Shelbea Gentry

Contributor:  Danielle Kraus (research)

Editor:  Daniel Klotz

Black History Month: Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union

“May America never forget that as long as festers of substandard working conditions, extreme poverty, helpless insecurity and racial discrimination exist within our borders, our beloved land fails of its great promise.” –Paul H. Douglas, U.S. Senator, Illinois; Foreword, Workers in Our Fields: The Story of a Union That Would Not Die, PAM 3566, UCA Archives.  


Every February the celebration of Black History Month commences; however, the contributions of black Americans should be celebrated regardless of the month.  

This From the Archives segment highlights the contributions of black Arkansans to the fight for fair working conditions within the agricultural sector, manifested in the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union–STFU. 



The organization began south of Tyronza, Arkansas in July of 1934.  Eighteen white and black men met in Sunnyside schoolhouse to discuss the unionization of agricultural workers.  New Deal financial aid failed to reach many tenant farmers, also known as sharecroppers, due to landlords retaining the bulk of the benefits.  The financial assistance was distributed with the intention that landlords would retain the same number of tenant farmers despite land reduction, and land removed from production was to be redistributed to tenants for personal food production.  Despite the hopes of the New Deal assistance, many landowners withheld aid and instead attempted to drive tenants from the land.

Fairview Plantation’s owner, Hiram Norcross ignored the protections the New Deal program afforded tenant farmers, and he evicted them from the land, ending the leases.  As a result local tenant farmers organized with the intent of forming a union.

The men discussed options for the structure of the organization, adopting the suggestion that the union be made a legal organization and operations fully transparent.  The farmers also discussed whether there should be one organization or two separate organizations on the basis of race. 


“…An old man with cotton-white hair overhanging an ebony face, rose to his feet…He had been a member of a black man’s union in Elaine, Arkansas.  He had seen the union with its membership wiped out in the bloody Elaine Massacre of 1919.  “We colored people can’t organize without you…and you white folks can’t organize without us.”



On July 26, 1934, the farmers received a certificate of incorporation from White County for the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union.  One integrated union, and a tenuous allyship.


Second from Left: E.B. McKinney, first Vice President, STFU (1934-1938)


The STFU held meetings in local churches, schoolhouses, and private homes.  A key characteristic of the STFU meetings were the cultural contributions of the black members in attendance.  Each meeting opened with prayer and singing from spirituals.  Religious fervor, Biblical quotes, and Populist movement sayings were all used in STFU slogans printed on banners, pamphlets, and signs and adopted as part of the Union’s mission statement.


“Many of them are songs of protest which grew out of conditions existing before slavery was abolished.”   


The official Union song, “We Shall Not Be Moved” received a minor editorial with the inclusion of the words, “Just like a tree planted by the water, we shall not be moved.  The Union is a’marching, we shall not be moved.”   


Despite the peaceful nature of the STFU meetings, members often faced difficulty in holding them for extended amounts of time without interference from local plantation owners, and in some instances local law enforcement.  Churches where the meetings took place were padlocked and boarded up, and the school houses were filled with hay preventing future meetings.  When the destruction of locales failed to deter the Union, vigilante violence occurred culminating in March, 1935–a reign of terror.

The “reign of terror” attempted to permanently end the Union by a variety of means including:  banning meetings; falsely accusing, arresting, and jailing members; convicting members on trumped up charges; withholding relief benefits; evicting tenant farmers from the land; burning churches; machine gunning houses; stuffing school houses with hay; mob violence resulting in murder.

Though their lives were threatened, the STFU members continued with meetings and organized a cotton strike to raise wages from sixty-five cents per one hundred pounds to one dollar per one hundred pounds.  A State Department labor official reported that within the delta region, he saw only two workers picking cotton during the height and success of the strike. 


All research and images come from:  Workers in Our Fields: The Story of a Union That Would Not Die, PAM-3566, University of Central Arkansas Archives, Conway, Arkansas, USA. 

Author: Shelbea Gentry

Editor:  Daniel Klotz