Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Letters of Dudley Emerson Jones - Part 2 of 3

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In turning to Dudley’s business interests more directly, there is no doubt that he was a natural entrepreneur, something of a risk-taker, first seen perhaps in that Gold Rush venture taken on when he was barely 20 years old. His Little Rock business included manufacture and sales of multiple types of farm equipment, and there are indications that he was optimally flexible for customers, offering to make or import virtually any related product they desired. He was very aware of the state and regional atmosphere for development as well, often remarking on the building of new railroads, and the great developments in the timber industry. In one letter he tells his sister about the great apple country up in Benton County, Arkansas, and how a young man could really make his mark were he to invest time and effort in harvesting them [she could recommend it, he perhaps implied, to some of the “younger folks” of Saratoga, as he called them]. He speaks at one point of the great store of minerals in Arkansas. But here his enthusiasm for once flags, communicating one possible reason for and frustration over his non-stop sales pitch. “If our minerals were in the Rocky Mountains, or way down in Mexico they would be sought by Capitalists all over the world. It has been long known that we have some..” [Gold, any amount of silver, Lead, Iron, tins] “I don’t know what all. But it is in Arkansas & that is enough to condemn it.” Dudley clearly seems aware of the view of his adopted state as a particularly backward and unpromising venue. But he had obvious personal reason to praise and recommend it [and it seems at times to exaggerate its potential]. He had greatly prospered there, and become one of the leading citizens of what he clearly had seen as an up and coming community all along. He exclaims in the 90’s, looking back, at the growth he had spoken of so often for at least 25 years. “There are 30,000 residents of Little Rock now; there were barely 3,000 when we came.” He had seen some of the first paved roads, and streetcars too.

Broader social and political observations also found their way into the letters to Jane Ann, the issue of race and race relations somewhat noticeably. Dudley had in effect served as part of the Reconstruction efforts, and administration, in the 1870’s. He was apparently directly involved in the Brooks-Baxter War, the conflict over the governorship of the state in 1874, which effectively signaled the end of Reconstruction in Arkansas. His role is not clear, but he ended up on the winning side. His appointment as a trustee of the first state university in Arkansas in 1875 seems connected to the political judgment and loyalties exercised at that moment.

The end of Reconstruction overall ended the public roles of African-Americans in many Southern states and communities. In assessing the situation, Dudley acknowledged both the capabilities and accomplishments of those he referred to as “colored,” and the reality of racism. He remarks on the good character, education, and bearing clearly evident in many of the “colored gentlemen,” and informs his sister, apparently to her surprise, that he has served next to colored men many times in court. “It is rare to sit on a jury without at least one colored man, and on grand juries 2 or 3, and they [the latter] are put on by Democrats.” But at one point, he recognizes the inescapable fact: “The whites will not be ruled by blacks,” he says, “even if there is ten colored to one white in a county.” He concludes, “ The Negroes soon find what is best for them take a back seat. It may be wrong & all that but it is human nature. The educated will rule.” But he also explained to his sister that he would not refer to blacks as “niggers,” as he actually thought northerners would.  Dudley Jones obviously reflected the contradictions and difficult balances of his age.

Like most others no doubt, Dudley could sometimes sound condescending. One holiday season he remarked to Jane Ann about the excitement in the city. “You should have seen downtown yesterday. You’ve never seen so many darkies, all excited getting their Christmas supplies.” Another time he comments on the reaction of a colored employee at receiving a photograph of himself. “You’ve never seen a darkie so tickled,” he exclaimed.

What we might see as contradictory, or politically incorrect probably seemed normal to Dudley. Black men were to be respected, but also to be objects of fun at times. I blush to admit that some of his business advertisements seem straight out of StepinFetchit. His seemingly dual attitude no doubt indicates the different classes of blacks: both the educated, city colored, and those he would also be familiar with – servants, and the large numbers of unsophisticated country people who worked the plantations. [How his “colored gentlemen” would have seen some of his business ads does not seem to have occurred to him].

1 “Dudley E Jones Company Business Advertisement.” Arkansas Gazette. 2 June 1893. Genealogy Bank.com.  Accessed 4 October 2010. < http://www.genealogybank.com>.

Guest blogger:  David

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