Historian, author makes presentation at Bess Jenkins Club

The Bess Jenkins Club met Oct. 16 at Pine Bluff Country Club and the presenter was Thomas DeBlack, a historian and author. President Sandy Poore opened the meeting.

Lela R. Murray, program chairwoman, introduced the speaker. DeBlack, a former history professor at Arkansas Tech University at Russellville, recently retired and is presently teaching a history class at Hendrix College in Conway.

Two of DeBlack’s books have won prestigious awards: “Arkansas: A Narrative History” and “With Fire and Sword 1862-1874,” according to a news release.

He has published a history of the first hundred years of Arkansas Tech, entitled “A Century Forward: The Centennial History of Arkansas Tech University.” He is also one of the contributors to “A Confused and Confusing Affair,” which is edited by Mark Christ. Currently, he is working on a book on Lakeport Plantation near Lake Village.

In keeping with the club’s program theme of study, “Pine Bluff, The Past, the Present, the Future,” DeBlack’s topic was “Hercules Cannon King White, Pine Bluff Mayor - 1885 to 1905.”

“According to DeBlack, White was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on April 4, 1845, the son of James M. White and Dorcas Trimble White. When the Civil War began, he was a student at the Louisville Male High School. One newspaper article noted that he was ‘a strange boy, and full of the spirit of adventure’,” according to the presentation.

“After the war, White moved to Pine Bluff, where an uncle, Rev. R. W. Trimble, and a brother, N. T. White, lived. He also had a sister, Florence, in Pine Bluff who was married to N. T. Roberts. He worked as a tutor for the children of prominent citizens while studying the law under Col. M. L. Bell. He received his license to practice law in 1868. That same year, he married Julia Dorriss on January 15, 1868. His uncle, Rev. Trimble performed the service at the Presbyterian Church at West Fourth and Chestnut Street,” according to the presentation.

“(Historian) James Leslie said that White was considered an excellent attorney, but his real strength was politics. His first elective office was as a Pine Bluff city alderman in 1871, and was reelected in 1873. His greatest fame came in the Brooks-Baxter War which arose from the disputed gubernatorial election of 1872. White sided with Baxter, raising three companies of three hundred African-American troops and arrived in Little Rock by steamboat on April 18, 1874, for the purpose of ‘…reinstating the lawful government of Arkansas.’ Baxter hoped for a peaceful solution to the crisis, and respectfully requested that White return with his men to Pine Bluff. White complied, but continued his support for Baxter,” according to the presentation.

In 1885, White ran for mayor of Pine Bluff and served five terms.

Also during the club meeting, secretary Susan Westfall called the roll and read the minutes from the September meeting. Mary Lee Hall, treasurer, gave the financial report. Membership chairwoman, Judy Barrett, gave her report on new members. After the program, the meeting was adjourned by Poore.