A recently graduated master’s degree student and archivist at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock has recently launched a website that highlights the contributions that Black communities in Arkansas made to the World War I effort.
For her thesis, Crystal Shurley searched through the Arkansas Council of Defense Records located in the Arkansas State Archives. Despite the patriotic efforts of Black communities during World War I, their efforts were often seen as a potential threat to White authorities. The Arkansas State Council of Defense largely excluded the accomplishments of organizations such as the Arkansas Colored Auxiliary Council from official reports. But Shurley found examples of their accomplishments recorded in the newspapers of that time.
“Her thesis and website fill a hole in Arkansas history and are timely additions to the scholarship of World War I history in the war’s centennial year,” said Dr. Brian Mitchell, assistant professor of history and Shurley’s thesis advisor. “While scholars know a tremendous amount of information about how Arkansans supported and entertained White World War I recruits and soldiers, very little is known about how Black Arkansans supported Black soldiers on the home front. Shurley’s work reveals the patriotism espoused by the Black community and the efforts that they made to ensure that their husbands, fathers, and sons who pledged themselves to the war effort would be appreciated and supported by their own.”
After Shurley’s research uncovered all the hidden accomplishments of the Arkansas Colored Auxiliary Council, she created a website with information about its members, historical records, newspaper clippings, council reports, and correspondence that users can access to learn more about this group and their contributions to the World War I effort.
“Sometimes, we focus on all the horrible things that happen to people of color, and we don’t focus on the amazing contributions they have made to society,” Shurley said. “The Arkansas Colored Auxiliary Council was an incredibly positive influence and force in the black community. They made incredible contributions that they were never recognized for.”
The new website may be accessed here.