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About the Book

Beyond the Book

288 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 24 illus., 4 maps, 2 figs., notes, bibl., index

John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture

ISBN  978-0-8078-5550-8
Published: September 2004

Journey of Hope

The Back-to-Africa Movement in Arkansas in the Late 1800s

By Kenneth C. Barnes

Awards & Distinctions

2005 J.G. Ragsdale Award, Arkansas Historical Association

2005 Arkansiana Award, Arkansas Library Association

A 2005 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Liberia was founded by the American Colonization Society (ACS) in the 1820s as an African refuge for free blacks and liberated American slaves. While interest in African migration waned after the Civil War, it roared back in the late nineteenth century with the rise of Jim Crow segregation and disfranchisement throughout the South. The back-to-Africa movement held great new appeal to the South's most marginalized citizens, rural African Americans. Nowhere was this interest in Liberia emigration greater than in Arkansas. More emigrants to Liberia left from Arkansas than any other state in the 1880s and 1890s.

In Journey of Hope, Kenneth C. Barnes explains why so many black Arkansas sharecroppers dreamed of Africa and how their dreams of Liberia differed from the reality. This rich narrative also examines the role of poor black farmers in the creation of a black nationalist identity and the importance of the symbolism of an ancestral continent.

Based on letters to the ACS and interviews of descendants of the emigrants in war-torn Liberia, this study captures the life of black sharecroppers in the late 1800s and their dreams of escaping to Africa.

About the Author

Kenneth C. Barnes is professor of history at the University of Central Arkansas. His most recent book is Who Killed John Clayton? Political Violence and the Emergence of the New South, 1861-1893.


"Drawing upon an impressive trove of primary and secondary materials. . . . Barnes demonstrates his skill and sensitivity as a thoughtful historian. . . . [A] substantive history. Meticulously researched and clearly written."

"A welcome addition to scholarship in Arkansas, African American, and southern history. . . . Highly recommended."

"This is a serious work of scholarship. Barnes should be commended for meticulously and analytically treating a painful but important aspect of Liberian-American relations."
--American Historical Review

"A captivating story."
--Arkansas Libraries

"In his well-researched and groundbreaking book, Kenneth C. Barnes illuminates the largely untold story of approximately six hundred African Americans from central Arkansas in the late 1880s who participated in the 'back to Africa' movement. . . . Barnes gives this complex and revealing story the scrutiny and attention it deserves."
--Journal of American History

"Using his considerable writing skills, Kenneth Barnes crafts a highly readable narrative that turns this story about a relatively small group of people into a fascinating account that speaks to many issues of the era--race relations in the South, the meanings of Reconstruction's demise, the lives and hopes of African Americans, and felt connections to Africa. Above all, anyone interested in the lives of poor black men and women in the late nineteenth century will find this a compelling read."
--James H. Meriwether, author of Proudly We Can Be Africans: Black Americans and Africa, 1935-1961

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