FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Anti-Catholicism in Arkansas: How Politicians, the Press, the Klan, and Religious Leaders Imagined an Enemy, 1910–1960, by Kenneth Barnes, received the 2017 J.G. Ragsdale Award in Arkansas History. The book was published in November 2016 by the University of Arkansas Press.
The Arkansas Historical Association has presented the Ragsdale award annually since 2002 to the best book-length historical study of an aspect of Arkansas History.
Anti-Catholicism in Arkansas begins with a vivid illustration: the whore of Babylon atop the masthead of The Liberator, an anti-Catholic newspaper published in Magnolia, Arkansas. The image depicts an immoral woman sitting on a seven-headed beast, holding a golden cup “full of her abominations,” and intended to represent the Catholic Church. This provocative image serves as prologue to Barnes’s account of a half-century of prejudice in Arkansas, the region, and the United States. Sex, liquor, two world wars, the Ku Klux Klan, immigration, school choice, politics, propaganda, and presidential elections all feature in this story of a religious minority cast as a feared and despised “other.” Barnes, a professor of history at the University of Central Arkansas, makes the case that this phenomenon was particularly strong in Arkansas.
However, the volatile political environment described in the book still resonates today, and far beyond Arkansas.
“Since the book’s publication we have all become more aware that prejudice and intolerance are still alive and well,” Barnes said. “Many of the things said about Roman Catholics a hundred years ago are still being said today about Muslims and immigrants.”
David Sesser, the chair of the Ragsdale award committee, praised Barnes’s examination of an overlooked minority in Arkansas’ history. “The detailed research coupled with the engaging narrative will be useful to both serious researchers and readers simply interested in Arkansas history,” Sesser said.
This marks the sixth time a book published by the University of Arkansas Press has won the Ragsdale Award:
- Judge Morris Arnold received the inaugural Ragsdale award in 2002 for his book The Rumble of a Distant Drum: The Quapaws and Old World Newcomers, 1673-1804.
- Governor Sidney McMath won in 2004 for his memoir Promises Kept.
- Billy Higgins was the co-winner of the 2005 award for A Stranger and a Sojourner: Peter Caulder, Free Black Frontiersman in Antebellum Arkansas.
- Grif Stockley was the 2009 winner for Ruled by Race: Black/White Relations in Arkansas from Slavery to Present.
- Brooks Blevins received the award in 2011 for Arkansas/Arkansaw: How Bear Hunters, Hillbillies, and Good Ol’ Boys Defined a State.
Kenneth Barnes was also the co-winner of the 2005 Ragsdale Award for his book Journey of Hope: the Back-to-Africa Movement in Arkansas in the Late 1800s, which was published by the University of North Carolina Press.