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Off the Grid: A History of Nature, Black Power, and Freedom on the Arkansas Frontier

About the Program

Canebrakes, speckled perch, chinquapins and blackberries, mink and beaver: Arkansas’s natural bounty was a major draw for hundreds of thousands of African Americans who migrated to the state after Emancipation in search of greater freedom and self-determination. What did freedpeople—some native to Arkansas and others newly arrived—learn about their natural environment from their experiences living and working in the New South’s last wilderness?  Through images, stories, and botanical specimens from the field, historian Story Matkin-Rawn and ecologist Theo Witsell will share their research on the challenges of frontier life and use of wild resources among African Americans in the Natural State.

About the Speakers

Story Matkin-Rawn serves as vice-president of the Arkansas Historical Association and is an associate professor of history at the University of Central Arkansas, where she teaches courses on Arkansas, Southern, and Civil Rights history. She received her PhD in history from the University of Wisconsin in 2009.  Her article “The Great Negro State of the Country: Arkansas’s Reconstruction and the Other Great Migration,” which appeared in the Arkansas Historical Quarterly in 2013, won the Violet B. Gingles Prize. This presentation on African American life on the Arkansas frontier is part of her current project, a book manuscript titled “A New Country: An African American History of the South’s Last Frontier, 1865–1940.”

Theo Witsell is the ecologist and chief of research for the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, a division of the Department of Arkansas Heritage. Prior to that, he served as a botanist for the agency for nineteen years, researching and protecting rare species and habitats across the state. His research interests include the historical ecology of Arkansas and the intersections of human history and our natural heritage.

About Legacies at the Branches

Legacies at the Branches is a free monthly program of CALS Butler Center for Arkansas Studies about Arkansas related topics.  Speakers have graciously given their time, first appearing at Legacies & Lunch, generally held every first Wednesday at noon in the Main Library’s Darragh Center.  They agree to an encore evening edition of the same talk later in the month at one of the CALS branch libraries. For more information, or to share ideas for future programs, please contact Heather Zbinden, 320-5744, hzbinden@cals.org.