OUTSPOKEN: The Olly Neal Story, by Olly Neal Jr., as told to Jan Wrede–Coming Soon from Butler Center Books

You might wonder if a community health clinic could actually be the spark that ignited a civil rights fire in a sleepy Delta town. It was. Or you might not believe that an inexperienced health clinic director could become a civil rights bogeyman or hero (depending whether you were talking to someone from the white or the black community). I was. And it all happened in a flash. You know, I’ve had one hell of a life… You might think you are going to hear a story about a great clinic administrator and a superior lawyer, but neither one is true. I am a good, average son of a gun who had a little bit more nerve than most people.—Olly Neal Jr. 

Advance praise for OUTSPOKEN: The Olly Neal Story, by Olly Neal Jr., as told to Jan Wrede

It has been fifty years since a lanky, profane, and angry young black man with a rap sheet of arrests for civil rights demonstrations across the river in Memphis set out to start a medical clinic for the people of Lee County, Arkansas, where most people were black and poor. He was seen as a provocateur out to overthrow the white order—a recurring fear in the Delta. With the aid of a sympathetic governor, he got the clinic—and fulfilled some of the other white fears, too. He kindled a boycott of white businesses and of the newly integrated school. Despite a recurrent fondness for whiskey and carousing, Neal got a law degree, won big voting-rights advances for blacks, became a (somewhat) successful politician, and had a distinguished career as a prosecutor and a trial and appellate judge. Now, in OUTSPOKEN, Olly Neal tells his story. As everyone who has known him would expect, it ain’t pretty, but it’s moving, and it’s helpful reading for anyone who wants to understand Arkansas.

—Ernest Dumas, a journalist and author who has reported on Arkansas politics for more than three decades, has been an author or collaborator on several books, including The Clintons of Arkansas, Waiting for the Cemetery Vote, Dearest Letty, and, most recently, The Education of Ernie Dumas.

OUTSPOKEN chronicles the life of Olly Neal Jr. from his beginnings in the Arkansas Delta to becoming the first black district prosecuting attorney in Arkansas and a circuit court judge, and serving on the Arkansas Court of Appeals. It is the upward-bound climb from obscurity to leadership. This book is a vivid and unforgettable portrait of the life of a remarkable man. Through all the disappointment, grief, and struggle of a young man growing up in the segregated south, Olly stayed the course and excelled. A successful life does not equate to an easy life. Olly is a tireless civil rights activist and political agitator who has demonstrated that he has the courage to challenge the status quo.

—Congressman Bennie G. Thompson, the longest-serving African-American elected official in the state of Mississippi and the lone Democrat in the Mississippi Congressional Delegation, is serving his thirteenth term in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Mississippi’s Second Congressional District.

Olly Neal’s autobiography provides a vivid and candid narrative of his lifelong commitment to the struggle for black freedom and equality. Neal’s story is not only instructive, valuable, and worthwhile in its own telling, but it is also an important addition to the far too few firsthand accounts of black lives in Arkansas. This book, like Neal, is a true state treasure.

—John A. Kirk is the George W. Donaghey Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and author of the award-winning book Redefining the Color Line: Black Activism in Little Rock, Arkansas, 1940–1970.

Olly’s brother Prentiss Neal during the Marianna economic boycott, 1971.

This is the incredible story of a man who fought the civil and human rights battles of the 1960s and 1970s in the hard fields of the Mississippi Delta. This was personal for Olly Neal. The Delta is where he was born and raised and where he became one of the most effective civil rights leaders of his time. In this new memoir, Olly takes us through what he experienced, personally and politically. Each anecdote adds to the larger narrative of courage and commitment in a man undaunted by his enemies—who were plentiful—and unwavering in his connection to the communities for whom he was a fearless fighter, unlike anyone who had appeared in those tough Delta counties in generations.

I had the extraordinary good fortune of working for Olly as medical director of the Lee County Cooperative Clinic in Marianna, Arkansas. It was built from whole cloth by Olly Neal himself, along with the people of America’s sixth poorest county. I was in awe of Olly’s ability to speak with great and genuine connection to the everyday people of the county—and be as tough as nails with the well-off and powerful. He was always the smartest and most convincing voice in the room.

All of this comes through in one of the most compelling memoirs I have read in years! Hard to put down and a real opportunity to take a deep and fascinating dive into one of the most important eras in America’s continuing evolution. Olly was there, and he’ll take you back with him.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Olly Neal’s life and times is how he went from rural folk hero to country lawyer to influential state judge. This is an amazing story that you won’t want to put down.

—Dr. Irwin Redlener, clinical professor of Health Policy and Management and Pediatrics (in the Earth Institute) at Columbia University, was one of the first doctors to serve at the Lee County Cooperative Clinic.

Olly Neal’s story is a must-read for anyone wanting to better understand the history of civil rights and race relations in Arkansas. Olly was a key leader at a critical moment of transition, when the black community in Marianna came together to assert its collective power. His perspective on the pivotal events of that era—and all that came afterwards—is a welcome addition to the history record. And his personal story, told in a forthright manner, is engaging and authentic—a true reflection of his outspoken and courageous character.

—Susan Daggett, who grew up in Marianna, Arkansas, and was one of a few white students to attend Lee County’s integrated schools in 1970, is associate professor of the Practice of Law at Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver and executive director of the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute.

CALS Butler Center Books
Spring 2020, 300 pages, 6×9, approx. 20 images
$29.95 paperback ISBN 978-1-945624-25-4

Pre-order a copy here: https://www.uapress.com/product/outspoken/

Jan Wrede and Olly Neal in Little Rock, 2019.
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