On Tuesday, February 14, 2012, State Representative Fred Allen and Black History Commission chair, Carla Coleman, spoke at the official opening of the exhibit in the lower-level foyer at the Arkansas State Capitol. African Americans participated in Arkansas politics for the first time following the Civil War. After the end of that conflict, the state adopted a new constitution in 1868. Its provisions included the right to vote and hold public office for black males.
Between 1868 and 1893, eighty-five African Americans are known to have served in the Arkansas General Assembly. These legislators included lawyers, merchants, ministers, educators, farmers, and other professionals. The majority served in the House, with nine being chosen for the Senate. Election laws passed by the General Assembly in 1891 and new poll tax regulations in 1893 effectively ended the election of African Americans to the legislature. Blacks did not serve again in the General Assembly until 1973.
Photographs survive for forty-five of the African Americans who served in the Arkansas General Assembly during the nineteenth century and are featured in this exhibit. Forty-three of these are from the holdings of the Arkansas History Commission.