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Friday, September 9, 2022

Narcissa Brown Reece: 1863 - 1947

Narcissa Brown Reece was born into slavery in Williamson County, Tennessee around 1863. By the 1930s, she was living at 710 Overton Street in Nashville when she was interviewed by a WPA worker named Della Yoe. The published interview appears on pp 64-65 of Volume 16 of the Federal Writers' Project: Slave Narrative Project. Yoe was an accomplished reporter who served as the foreman of District 1 of the Federal Writer's Project headquartered in Knoxville, TN. She was a white, single woman who - coincidentally - had a sister who had married into the Patton family of Williamson County.  

Narcissa Brown Reece's interview is one of six WPA Interviews that I have identified of people with Williamson County connections.  You can learn more about these interviews and others here.

Daughter of Mary "Polly" Bradley-Perkins and Randall Brown

Enslaved by the Perkins and Bradley Families of Forest Home

Narcissa Brown Reece was the daughter of Randall Brown and Mary "Polly" Bradley-Perkins Brown. I believe that the couple was initially enslaved by the wealthy Perkins and Brown families, who lived on a series of large farms in the Old Town area on Del Rio Pike and the Old Natchez Trace west of Franklin. 

This portion of an 1878 map of Williamson County shows downtown Franklin at the far bottom right, and circled are the landholdings of the Brown and Perkins families along Del Rio Pike and Old Natchez Trace.
D. G. Beers & Co. Map of Williamson County 1878

Nicholas "Bigbee" Perkins and his wife Mary Hardin Perkins owned large parcels of property and enslaved more than three hundred people in Franklin.  They were among some of the earliest white settlers in Williamson County. The couple married here in 1808.  In the mid-1820s, it is believed that Polly and Randall were born into bondage in this area. 

The Perkins had several children, including two daughters who married into the Bradley family.  Mary Elizabeth Perkins married Leland Bradley in 1836, and her sister Margaret Perkins married Robert H. Bradley in 1844. Polly alternatively used the last name Bradley and Perkins during her life. I believe the use of both last names came through these connections among the white enslavers. 

[Note:  I have researched other people with ties to this white family. Nicholas Bigbee Perkins' son William O. Neil Perkins sold Nancy Perkins Gardner who was interviewed in Oklahoma City by the WPA. She also had relatives with the surname Bradley. Her uncle Judge George Napier Perkins was a US Colored Troop soldier, attorney and activist who was also enslaved by this family.]

During their time in slavery, Narcissa's parents Randall and Polly witnessed the Leonid Meteor Shower. Between November 10th & 12th in 1833, for three consecutive nights, people across North America witnessed the dramatic Leonid Meteor shower. This event was often referred to as "The Night the Stars Fell." Randall and Polly would have been around eight years old. Later, their daughter Narcissa recalled how, 

"Mammy told us how the stars fell and how scared everybody got." 

This famous engraving of the 1833 Leonid meteor shower was produced for the Adventist book Bible Readings for the Home Circle by Adolf Vollmy. It’s based on a painting by Swiss artist Karl Jauslin, which, in turn, was based on a first-person account of the 1833 storm by a minister, Joseph Harvey Waggoner, who saw the 1833 shower on his way from Florida to New Orleans.

When Nicholas "Bigbee" Perkins' father Thomas died in 1838, some of the people he enslaved were hired out to earn money for his family and estate. Among them was, "Girl Little Polly" who was hired to James H. Wilkins. There is no way to confirm whether this Polly was Narcissa's mother, but she may have been. Polly was about 13 years old at the time. 

Ten years later, in 1848, Nicholas Bigbee Perkins died. I believe that, as part of the dispersal of his estate, on January 30, 1849, Nicholas Bigbee Perkins' son William O'Neil Perkins sold five enslaved people to Enoch Brown. Among them was, Randal age 22 - Narcissa's father - and Polly, aged 24 - Narcissa's mother.  Williamson County Deed Book T, p. 225  

Enslaved by the Enoch Brown Family

Narcissa Brown Reece described in her interview how, 

"I was born in slavery, in Williamson County ... I think I was four when the war started."  
"My mammy and daddy was Mary and Enoch Brown." "My missis and master was Polly and Randall Brown."

After extensive research, I firmly believe that the above statements are a transposition by the interviewer. The names should be the reverse. Narcissa was enslaved by Mary and Enoch Brown. And Narcissa's parents were Randall and his wife Mary "Polly" Brown.  

Enoch Brown

Enoch Brown
was born in
Brentsville, Prince William County, Virginia in 1807, the middle child of Joseph and Catherine Brown. According to family lore, Joseph Brown was "cruel and unreasonable." Following the death of his wife Catherine in the early 1820s, 13-year-old Enoch, his brothers Thomas and Alexander "Sandy" and sisters Emily and Nancy left Virginia for Tennessee, taking with them an enslaved woman and man. 

By 1832, Enoch Brown was living in Williamson County where he married Fannie Cloyd and started his own family. They settled about six miles northwest of downtown Franklin in the Old Town area near the Temple Hills  of Williamson County on the Old Natchez Trace - not far from the Perkins landholdings on Del Rio Pike. 

A portion of 1878 Map of Williamson County, Tennessee
Highlighted portion shows Enoch Brown's 650 acres Hill Home in District 6 west of Franklin

By 1850, Enoch Brown was widowed and supported his own family by farming using - at least in part - enslaved labor.  Living in the household was a free Black man named George Lewis. 

1850 US Census, Williamson County, Tennessee, District 6
A portion of page 6 shows the Enoch Brown household of free people

Also living on the property were 23 enslaved people, including a 24-year-old male and 22-year-old female who may have been Randall and Polly.

1850 Federal Census - Slave Schedule for Enoch Brown
Williamson County, Tennessee
District 6

In 1857, Enoch Brown married Mary Innis.  Years later, when Narcissa Brown Reece recalled that she was enslaved by "Mary and Enoch Brown" - this was the couple she was referring to. She would have been a toddler at the time of the marriage. By 1860, Enoch Brown was enslaving 31 people on his farm; the oldest was a 48-year-old woman and the youngest was a 1-month-old baby girl. Nine of the 31 people were females. A six-year-old boy was noted as "deaf."  

Slave Census, 1860
Williamson County, Tennessee - District, page 35
Entry for Enoch Brown

Taking into account the difficulty in identifying individuals on these slave schedules with any certainty, it is interesting to note that at the time of the Census, Randall and Polly would have been about 35 years old, and a man and women of about that age appear on the list.  Additionally, they would have had five, perhaps six, children by then that I can tentatively match to the ages of enslaved children on this list - including their son Claiborn who would have been six and was indeed deaf. A four-year-old girl could be Narcissa. 

Post War and Reconstruction

It is not clear what life was like for Randall, Polly, and their children - including Narcissa - during the Civil War. Randall does not appear to have joined the US Colored Troops, and his name does not appear on the list of men who worked as laborers for the US government during the War. The family may have remained on the Brown farm during the War. In her interview, Narcissa recalled that during this time, 

"When freedom was declared we were turned loose with nothing. 
My daddy took us down in the country, raised crops, and made us work in the field."

By 1868, the KKK was active in Williamson County and Narcissa described how she:

"Didn't see any Klu Klux Klan, but I always got scared and hid 
when we'd hear they were coming. 

You can learn more about this time in Williamson County by reading this post.

In 1870 the family was counted by name for the first time in a census. Narcissa was counted as being seven years old - the seventh of Randall and Polly's ten children living at home. This indicated she was born around 1863. Two of her siblings, older brother Claiborn and next younger sister Mary, had both been born deaf and were mute. The family was living in District 6 of Williamson County, near the Enoch Brown farm. Narcissa's two oldest sisters at home - Laura and Molly Ann- were both married mothers working as farm laborers. Molly was married to Stephen Davis (aka Stephen Mays), a veteran of the 12th US Colored Infantry during the Civil War. The couple had three young girls.

1870 Federal Census
Williamson County, Tennessee, District 6, page 18
Household of Randall & Polly Brown family: Randall 39, Mary 43, 
Malvena 18 , Claborn 16, Cane 10, Martha 9, Narcisssa  7,  Mary 6; also living at home were 

Narcissa's oldest sister, Matilda was married to Jack Hill and they were also living in District 6, along with Jack Hill's mother and their three young children.
In 1874, the next oldest sister Malvina married Thomas Southall. Tom was the son of Fannie McGavock and Oscar Southall, a painter and farmer. Fannie had been bequeathed to Mary Southall by her mother Sarah McGavock of Carnton. The couple rented land from Fountain Branch Carter (of the Carter House) before they purchased their own property.

In 1876, Narcissa married Daniel Reece in Williamson County.

Marriage License of Narcissa Brown and Dan Reese.
Note both names are denoted "col" - for "colored."

Over the next four years, three children were born to the couple: Mary, Floyd, and Pearl. In the 1880 Federal Census, the family was counted living in District 5 next to Narcissa's parents Randall and Polly, and her younger siblings. 

1880 Federal Census
Williamson County, Tennessee, District 6/233, page 15
Household of Randall Brown and family; living with them (highlighted) is daughter Narcissa with her husband Daniel Reese and family.

Meanwhile, Narcissa's older sister, Laura, was living with Mary Brown, the widow of Enoch Brown, and working as her servant. They appear to have been on the original Brown farm in the Old Town area west of Franklin, Tennessee. 

The 1890 Federal Census is missing, but we have a small clue as to some activities that surely caught Narcissa's attention during that time. That fall, her younger brother Manuel Brown, was accused of shooting another man and wounding him. The sons of their former enslaver, Coley and Enoch Brown Jr, hired an attorney to defend Manuel. 


It is not clear what the outcome of the case was, but Manuel worked as a stonemason and minister in Nashville, where he died in 1936. He was buried in the Greenwood (Mt. Ararat) cemetery.

Narcissa's mother Polly appears to have passed away around this time, and in 1896 her father married a woman named Laura. 

1900s - 1920s

Sometime before the 1900 census, Narcissa and Daniel moved to the Southall area of Franklin. The couple were in their mid-to-late 40s and were raising five children and grandchildren. 

1900 Federal Census
Williamson County, Tennessee, District 5/113, page 8

Their oldest daughter Mary had married a few years earlier and was living nearby on Boyd Mill Pike with her husband Thomas Rivers and their three young children, including infant Narcissa named after her grandmother. 

In 1906, Narcissa's father Randall divorced her step-mother Laura citing abandonment. Soon after, Narcissa and Daniel moved their family to Franklin Road on the north side of town in District 8 of Williamson County. In 1910, Narcissa was working as a laundress, and Daniel continued to farm. In her interview, she described how,

"I've cooked a little for other people, but most of my work has been laundry."

1910 Federal Census 
Williamson County, Tennessee District 8-145 / page 8
Daniel and Narcissa were raising two children and two grandchildren. They had been married for 33 years and had six children. Daniel was renting a farm. Narcissa and daughter Catherine were working as laundresses. Daughter Mollie was attending school, as were the two grandchildren - Katie Jane Rivers and Charles Floyd Rivers.

In the spring of 1910, Halley's Comet made its appearance in the sky. Narcissa recalled how while she was living in Williamson County,

I saw the long tail comet.

In 1914, Narcissa's brother Jordan Brown died of tuberculosis. According to his death certificate, he was buried at Perkins' Grave Yard. It is not clear where there is. It might have been a segregated family graveyard on the Perkins land on Del Rio Pike.

1920s - 1940s

As is the case for so many Black families, the 1920 Census-taker appears to have skipped Daniel and Narcissa Brown Reece.  It is not clear exactly what happened during the two decades between 1910 and 1930, but we know that several of Narcissa's sons and grandsons registered for the draft of men to serve as soldiers in World War I.  (Learn more about the local African American experience during World War I here.)

In 1918, Naisy and Daniel's son Floyd registered for the draft during World War I. 

Additionally, their grandson Leonard Rivers likewise registered. He was living in the Bingham community west of Franklin on Boyd Mill Pike. He died the same year from pneumonia.

Daniel appears to have died during this period and by 1929 Narcissa moved to Nashville to live with their daughters Catherine and Mattie at 710 Overton Street.  
1931 Nashville City Directory
Narcissa was widowed, living at her home at 710 Overton St in Nashville
Living with her were her daughters Mattie and Katherine.

1930 Federal Census
Narcissa was living with her daughters Catherine and Mattie and grandchildren. She was mistakenly identified as their mother-in-law rather than mother.  The family was living on Overton Street in Nashville. Narcissa was identified as being 70 years old and was working as a laundress.

Their Overton Street neighborhood appears to have been a thriving Black community.  A few steps away was a grocery store and beauty school. Today the area is known as the fashionable residential, retail, and restaurant location called The Gulch - complete with baristas, cycle classes, and a Patagonia store.

The Nashville Globe Friday, August 24, 1917, page 8

The Nashville Globe, Friday September 6, 1907, page 3

On April 1,1936, Narcissa's daughter Mollie died at their home of pneumonia. She was about 42 years old. Her mother was the informant on her death certificate. 

WPA Interview.

Around 1937, Narcissa Reece was interviewed by the Works Project Administration at her home on Overton Street. Narcissa was about 79 years old at the time. Some of what she said that day is transcribed below:

 I don't know what to say about the younger generation; there is such a difference now to what it was when I was a girl. 

I belong to the Baptist Church. I never went to many camp-meetings, but went to a lot of baptizing.

Signs: "Good luck to get up 'before day-light if you're going someplace or start some work. Bad luck to sweep the floor after dark and sweep the dirt out.

Songs: "I Couldn't Hear Anybody Pray." "Ole Time Religion." "Cross The River Jordan."



I have not been able to find Narcissa Reece in the 1940 Federal Census, but I have determined that after her interview, Narcissa moved a few blocks away to a new home at 728 12th Street South. She lived there with her daughter Katherine. 

World War II.

Soon after, the US joined World War II.  Narcissa Reece's grandson Gentry B. Hardison joined the Army and served as a corporal in World War II and later in Korea. Upon his death in 1959, his remains were buried in the Nashville National Cemetery.

As men went to War in the 1940s, the country experienced a labor shortage that created an opportunity for women. Narcissa's 25-year-old granddaughter Juanita Rivers moved to Pontiac, Michigan where she worked as a core dipper on the automotive line. These women are referred to as "Black Rosies". Juanita Rivers worked for Pontiac Motors for 33 years until she retired in 1975.

In 1943, Narcissa's daughter Katherine died in Nashville. She was buried in Greenwood Cemetery like her brother Manuel. At the time, the two women were living together at 728 12th Avenue South.


Death of Narcissa Brown Reece.

On December 23, 1947, Narcissa Brown Reece died at her home at 728 12th Avenue South in Nashville. She was almost 90 years old. Her daughter Polly Reece Hardison was the informant on her death certificate. Her funeral was held at the St. Eli Primitive Baptist Church on Bradford Avenue, not far from her home.

Narcissa Brown Reece's WPA Interview was one of the shortest that I have researched - but her life was one of great consequence. Narcissa began her life as a child in bondage in Williamson County, Tennessee. She lived through the Civil War, the Spanish American War, World War I, and World War II. 

Narcissa Brown Reece death certificate
She died at her home of bronchial pneumonia with a secondary diagnosis of senility
She was buried at the Franklin Cemetery which is often used to mean the historic Toussaint L'Ouverture Cemetery. Patton Brothers funeral home handled the interment. No headstone has been located.

The Tennessean
December 25, 1947
page 4

At the time of her death in 1947, she had eight great-grandchildren, including Charlotte - the daughter of Juanita Rivers Miller. Charlotte and her siblings Pearl and David have been researching Narcissa's story and continue to share and cherish her legacy.  You can view a Power Point Presentation that they have generously shared with this blog here. I am very grateful for their assistance with this research.

Full Interview

Federal Writers' Project: Slave Narrative Project, Vol. 15, Tennessee, Batson-Young. 1936. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, (Accessed September 28, 2016.)

Monday, July 4, 2022

Judge George Napier Perkins : "The Old African Lion" (1841-1914)

George Napier Perkins served in the US Colored Troops during the Civil War, was a lawyer, justice of the peace, a two-term alderman on the Little Rock (Arkansas) City Council, political and civil rights activist, a newspaper publisher in Guthrie, Oklahoma, and devoted uncle.
But his story starts with his birth into slavery right here in Franklin, Williamson County, Tennessee around 1841. He was the son of Moses and Millie Perkins - both of whom were born in Virginia and then brought to Tennessee in bondage.  They all appear to have been enslaved on the expansive Perkins family plantations on Del Rio Pike in the Forest Home area of Franklin. Some of the Perkins holdings include Two Rivers, Meeting of the Waters, and Montpier.  I have researched and written about several other people who were held in slavery by the Perkins family such as USCT veteran Abraham Perkins McGavock. Additionally, Nancy Perkins Gardner was enslaved by the Perkins family and was George Napier's Perkins' niece. I suspect that George N. Perkins was enslaved in Williamson County by Nicholas Bigbee Perkins. When Nicholas Bigbee Perkins died in 1848, he left his children large groups of enslaved people as property, including George Perkins' own extended family. 

I believe that George N. Perkins was inherited by Nicholas Bigbee Perkins' son Constantine Perkins. By 1860, Constantine Perkins was operating a plantation on the bank of the Arkansas River in Campbell Township, just south of Little Rock, Arkansas. He doesn't appear to have lived there, but he enslaved 79 people - including perhaps 18 year old George Napier Perkins - and employed an overseer named A. J. Jones.  Perkins was described as a planter with real estate assets worth $100,000 and personal property - which would have included enslaved people like George Napier Perkins - valued at $90,000. 

1860 Federal Census
Campbell, Pulaski County, Arkansas, page 1
Showing C. Perkins and his overseer's family


1860 Census Slave Schedule
Campbell, Pulaski County, Arkansas, pages 2-3
Census of people enslaved by C. Perkins, managed by overseer A. J. Jones

My blog post about the Bostick family explores how the enslaved family of Charlotte and Washington Bostick from the Triune area of Williamson County were likewise divided by slavery; some of their oldest children were also sent to Arkansas from Williamson County before the Civil War. 

Saturday, January 4, 1873

Constantine Perkins also owned a large farm in Columbia, Maury County, Tennessee. In the 1860 Federal Census, his real estate holdings there were valued at $205,000 and his personal property - including enslaved people - were valued at more than $170,000.

1st Sergeant of the 57th US Colored Infantry

I have not been able to uncover details about George N. Perkins' early time in Arkansas, but in September 1863, Federal troops took control of the Confederate state's capital at Little Rock. Perkins was likely living nearby and well aware of the victory. Just a few months later, on December 4, 1863, he enlisted in Company C of the 57th Regiment of the US Colored Troops in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was described as being 23 years old and 6 feet tall - which was quite tall at the time. 

Also enlisting in the same company on the same day were four other men with the last name of Perkins who were also born in Williamson County, Tennessee: William Perkins, Matthew Perkins, James Perkins and Grundy Perkins. A few weeks earlier, on November 10, 1863, Charles Perkins from Williamson County had also enlisted in Company C of the 57th US Colored Infantry Regiment.  It seems likely that they had all six men had been enslaved by Constantine Perkins and his family in Williamson County, Tennessee and were brought to Arkansas to work his land. Following the occupation of the area by federal troops, it appears as though many of these men took the opportunity to join the US Army as privates in the 57th US Colored Infantry.

George N. Perkins Descriptive Card

The regiment was initially designated as the 4th Regiment Arkansas Volunteer Infantry (African Descent) and assigned garrison duty at Helena and Little Rock until August 1864. A detachment of the regiment participated in Steele's Camden Expedition, March 23-May 3, 1864, as bridge train guard - but it is not clear if George N. Perkins participated in this effort. 

On April 26, 1864 - just a few weeks after the massacre of USCT troops at Fort Pillow - Perkins' regiment was involved in a skirmish near Little Rock. Then in May the 57th conducted operations against Confederate General Joe Shelby north of the Arkansas River. The regiment was next involved in skirmishes near Little Rock on May 24 and 28, 1864. During this time, on May 27, 1864, Perkins was promoted from private to corporal, which indicates that he could read and write. 

The regiment marched to Brownsville, Arkansas on August 23, 1864, and then moved to Duvall's Bluff - about 50 miles to the west of Little Rock on the Smith River - on August 29, 1864. That October Perkins was on duty as the color Sergeant for the regiment. Perhaps he is one of the men in this photograph.

The regiment was on duty there and at Little Rock until June 1865. During that time, on May 23, 1865, George N. Perkins was promoted 1st Sergeant of the regiment.  In January 1865, the regiment was sent back to Little Rock.
Special Orders No. 28, Department of Arkansas, dated January 31, 1865,
from Little Rock, instructed the 57th United States Colored Infantry to report
to the commanding officer at Little Rock, Arkansas, for duty.

When the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi surrendered on May 26, 1865, the 57th USCT was divided between Little Rock and Duvall's Bluff. The regiment was then transferred to Ft. Smith, Arkansas

Federal soldiers encamped at Fort Smith during the Civil War. 
Courtesy of the Fort Smith Museum of History

While at Fort Smith, the 57th guarded property and maintained law and order. During this time, 46 enlisted men married women at the Fort Smith Freedmen’s Bureau office (more records here). That March/April 1866 Perkins was marked as being sick in the hospital on his muster cards but he must have recovered quickly because that is the only reference to illness in his records.  

In September 1866, it appears as though the 57th was sent to New Mexico, although it is interesting that most of the official descriptions of the regiment omit this part of their service. Several newspapers reported that on September 13, 1866, the regiment reached Fort Union, New Mexico after marching for 67 days over almost 700 miles across Oklahoma from Fort Smith.

The Evening Telegraph Mon Sep_24, 1866
The 57th remained on duty at Fort Union in New Mexico until November when they seem to have marched northeast another 660 miles to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas where they arrived in early December 1866. 

The Atchison Daily Free Press
Mon Dec 3, 1866

Just a few weeks later, on December 13, 1866, Perkins mustered out in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, a full 18 months after the end of the Civil War. He was paid a $100 bounty, but charged $6 for retaining his "musket and accouterments." 

Little Rock, Arkansas 1867-1891.

One month later, on January 30, 1867, Perkins married Margaret A. Dillard in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Maggie appears to have been the divorced mother of a 6-year-old son, John Spring. 

Perkins quickly became very involved in politics during an incredibly tense and significant time in Arkansas history. In 1868 Arkansas adopted a new state Constitution and the Republican-controlled government - which was advocating changes that favored former slaves - took power. As was the case in former slave-states across the country, tensions arose regarding new laws empowering former slaves while disfranchising former Confederates. The Ku Klux Klan used violence to intimidate African Americans and Republican voters. 

Perkins moved his new family to an area called "Perkins" near the state capital - Little Rock, Pulaski County, Arkansas. In the 1870 Census, George N. Perkins was listed as 25 years old and working as a Justice of the Peace. He served as justice of the peace for six years in Campbell Township near where he had been enslaved. He was also a two-term alderman on the Little Rock City CouncilPerkins was admitted to practice law in 1871 after having attended a night law school. 

A further hint that it was Constantine Perkins who enslaved George Napier Perkins in Arkansas comes in this newspaper clipping from 1871. It stated that "of six of Constantine Perkins' negroes, in Arkansas, one is a constable, two are magistrates and three are lawyers." It seems quite likely that one of these "negroes" referred to was George Napier Perkins - who was at that time serving as a Justice of the Peace as well as being an attorney.

Nashville Union and American
Tuesday Mach 2, 1871, page 3

During this time, on January 2, 1873, Perkins helped his step-son John Spring open a Freedmen's Bank account in Little Rock. 
 It showed that the family was living in Campbell Township and John was working for his step-father.

Freedmen's Bank Account statement
11-year old John Spring listed his step-father 
George N. Perkins as the depositor and guardian of the account

Due at least in part to the tactics of the KKK, including violence and intimidation, Conservatives began to gain political power in Arkansas, and the 1872 election became a political nightmare for the Republicans - with whom Perkins aligned. The state Republicans split into two factions. Elisha Baxter led one faction, known as the Minstrels. The other group, called the Brindletails, supported Joseph Brooks. Perkins joined the Brindletails. 

Article quoting George N. Perkins

Despite widespread accusations of voter fraud and intimidation, and after two months of counting votes, the state election commission declared Baxter the winner for the Governor's race. Brooks challenged the decision and won a court decision. On April 15, 1874, he and a group of armed men physically removed Baxter from the State House. Fighting erupted on the streets of Little Rock. The incident and resulting skirmishing became known as the Brooks-Baxter War. 

by Walter Nunn, The Arkansas Historical Quarterly
Vol. 27, No. 3 (Autumn, 1968), pp. 177-204

The Legislature called for a new constitution. The Constitutional Convention assembled at the State House on July 14, 1874Perkins was chosen to be one of four Black delegates to the Convention. Before the convention, Perkins was suspicious that the Democrats intended to limit the rights of Black citizens. His suspicions were well-founded and the enactment of the 1874 Constitution marked the end of Reconstruction in Arkansas. This was the fifth and current Constitution of the State of Arkansas. 

Daily Arkansas Gazette
Tuesday, July 7, 1874 page 4
The newspaper printed George Perkins and the other Perkins delegate to the convention in the newspaper. In an apparent attempt to discredit them, the paper included any spelling errors in their statements.

At that time, Perkins was still living in Campbell, Arkansas - a suburb of Little Rock. Perkins was a substantial landowner. He was a founder of the town of Woodson, Arkansas (Saline County), which was created from parts of two 40-acre tracts that he owned. Perkins remained active in the efforts of Black men to collaborate on a widespread basis. In 1879, Perkins attended a National Conference of Colored Men of the United States in Nashville, Tennessee, as a representative of Arkansas. Representatives came from all over the country.  Williamson County's ANC Williams represented Tennessee. I have to wonder if George N. Perkins paid a visit to his birthplace during the visit.

The (Nashville) Daily American
Wednesday, May 7, 1879

At the Convention, Perkins was appointed to serve on the Committee on Migration to discuss the interest in large-scale migration by African Americans out of the south to northern and western states. 

Proceedings of the National conference of colored men of the United States,
held in the State capitol at Nashville Tennessee,
May 6, 7, 8 and 9, 1879
by National conference of colored men of the United States, Nashville, Tenn., 1879.

Perkins proposed a resolution "favoring wholesale emigration on account of oppression and intimidation." His resolution also stated that "the Negro is not naturally inferior to the white man, and is capable of self-governance."

A resolution offered by George N. Perkins
Advocating for "wholesale emigration on account of oppression and intimidation."

At the Conference, the members formed the American Protective Society to Prevent Injustice to the Colored People, in recognition of the discrimination, segregation, and racial violence that was continuing throughout the country. (See this blog post for more information.) George N. Perkins was appointed a Vice President of the organization to represent the state of Arkansas. 

During this time, Perkins was practicing law in Little Rock. He was listed in Little Rock City Directories as an attorney from 1885 to 1890. In 1889, he was listed as among the "colored" members of the Little Rock bar.

He continued to pressure white Republicans for more African American participation in politics and was an opponent of the Separate Coach Act of 1890. However, when this Jim Crow law passed, Perkins appears to have given up on bringing about change in his adopted home state and migrated to Oklahoma.  

Guthrie, Oklahoma

Perkins moved to the Oklahoma Territory in April 1891. In preparation for the move, he appears to have been getting his affairs in order. He filed a document in the Circuit Court in Little Rock declaring his stepson John Spring and someone named Albertie Anderson to be his lawful heirs and apparently adopting them. Nothing more is known about the two.



In Guthrie, the territorial capital, he served as an alternate delegate to the Republican Convention in 1891. Green I. Currin (another Williamson Countian) was the only Black man elected to serve in that first Territorial legislature of Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Guide - Newspaper

Perkins purchased a Guthrie newspaper, the Oklahoma Guide. Started in 1892, the paper became the longest continuously published Black urban weekly in Oklahoma Territory. Perkins used the Guide, as editor and publisher, to advocate for civil rights. He also encouraged the migration of other African Americans to Oklahoma.

Public Service

Perkins served on the Guthrie City Council from 1894 to 1902 and ran for police judge of Guthrie in 1896. That same year the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Plessy v. Ferguson which must have felt like another blow to Perkins. However, Perkins continued his public service and was a justice of the peace in Guthrie. He was active in the Missionary Baptist church. Perkins was a Mason and also served on the Commercial Business Men’s League (a national Black organization), as well as the Guthrie Library Board. During this time he mentored a young Black attorney named Stuart C. Pryce.

Republican Politics

Perkins worked behind the scenes and at the grassroots level for civil rights and equal protection under the law. He supported the Negro Protective League and opposed Jim Crow laws. When the state Democrats used the Grandfather Clause to deny the vote to Black men - such as Green Currin - he appealed to the governor and encouraged Currin to bring his lawsuit all the way to the US Supreme Court, which he did.

The African Lion

By 1910, Perkins was 68 years old.  His niece Louisa Ridley. and her 33-year-old daughter Elmira were living with him in Guthrie.  Louisa and her husband Sam had emigrated from Williamson County to Shawnee, Kansas with their family around 1880, and then to Guthrie in 1900. Sam Ridley died in 1909. Judge Perkins was very close to his niece and his extended family.  I have written previously about Nancy Perkins Gardner. She had also been enslaved by the Perkins family in Williamson County, Tennessee and was a niece of George Perkins. After being sold to Alabama as a child, in 1912 she reunited with her family in Oklahoma including her uncle and cousins.

In early October 1914, George Perkins appeared to know that his life was coming to an end. The Oklahoma Guide published a statement of ownership showing that Perkins was sharing the enterprise with his niece, Elmira Ridley.

The Oklahoma Guide
Oct. 1, 1914

Within a week, Judge Perkins died. His grief-stricken niece published this notice on the front page of their newspaper. George Napier Perkins died on October 6, 1914, shortly before the Supreme Court declared the Grandfather clause unconstitutional on June 21, 1915. His long and vigorous protest for civil rights earned him the title of "the African Lion." His legacy as a soldier, lawyer, publisher, and devoted uncle will live on forever.

Oklahoma Guide, October 8, 1914

A Card of Thanks published in the paper by Judge Perkins' survivors

  • Judith Kilpatrick, “(EXTRA)Ordinary Men: African-American Lawyers and Civil Rights in Arkansas Before 1950,” 53 Ark. Law Rev. 299, 302 n7, 307, 311 n71, 320, 327-30, 334, 336, 340-41, 343, 345, 347 n352, 374 (2000)
  • 1 Who’s Who of the Colored Race 214 (1915)
  • 1886, 1890 Little Rock City Directories 
  • “Proceedings of the National Conference of Colored Men of the United States,” 5/6-9/1879, Nashville, TN, pp. 16, 29, 67
  • R.O. Joe Cassity, Jr., “African-American Attorneys on the Oklahoma Frontier, 27 Okla. City U. L. Rev. 245 (2002)
  • African American Biographical Database, Profile available at 
  • Oklahoma Historical Society listing