A Piece of my Soul - Quilts by Black Arkansans Old State House
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Donkey Quilts

Donkey QuiltThe Donkey quilt pattern first appeared in the Kansas Star in 1931. A few weeks earlier the newspaper had published the pattern of “Ararat,” an elephant in Swope Park, a Kansas City, Missouri zoo. Interpreting the political significance of the elephant as a Republican Party symbol, some readers made a GOP (Grand Old Party) elephant out of the pattern. To be even-handed, and in view of the upcoming presidential election of 1932, the readers wanted a donkey pattern to represent the Democrat Party. The Kansas City Star obliged them and published “Giddap, A Very Democratic Donkey,” designed by Eveline Foland. The Kansas City Star was circulated throughout Arkansas in the Weekly Star Arkansas/Oklahoma Edition, as well as in some other states contiguous to Missouri, and so the Donkey quilt pattern was widely available to Arkansas residents.

For black people, the Donkey pattern had a special meaning dictated by the Great Depression the country was experiencing and by the 1932 election of the Democratic Party candidate for president. Ever since the Republican president Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 freeing the slaves in areas in rebellion against the Union, black people had a strong loyalty to the Republican Party. Once Amendment XV to the U.S. Constitution was passed in 1870 granting suffrage to black men, and in 1920 when Amendment XIX granted suffrage to all women citizens, from those times forward until 1932, black people almost overwhelmingly voted solidly Republican. Rather than to paint too rosy a picture of relations between Republicans and black voters, there were instances, especially in some southern areas in the early twentieth century, when Republicans attempted to and succeeded to disenfranchise black voters. And the GOP also resisted a prevailing impression that somehow blacks were too influential in the party by increasingly separating white and black party members and by sponsoring segregation legislation of its own. Yet, by and large, most blacks during that period favored the Republican Party over the Democrat Party.

From the end of the Civil War to the first three decades of the twentieth century the Democrat Party, dominated by zealous southern segregationists, was generally considered an anathema to black voters. Many believed the Democrat Party firmly upheld the southern way of life with all of its ills that negatively affected black people in every aspect of their lives, socially, politically, economically, educationally, and culturally. Legal “Jim Crow” segregation laws initiated and suppression, isolation, and overt racism and were the bane of black people’s existence. In such an atmosphere brutal lynchings, sharecropper peonage, and deprivation of educational opportunities for blacks flourished.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, became president, he soon set about combating the Great Depression in which millions of desperate Americans were jobless by instating government measures and programs, such as the WPA (Works Progress Administration), and its agencies, the CCC, the TVA, the FWP, and a number of others. For the first time backs were allowed to participate, although many of the programs were poorly administered, so black participation was uneven at best. President Roosevelt’s wife, Eleanor, who was enlightened on social issues, began to be perceived as an advocate for the poor and for blacks. Gradually more and more blacks began to switch their allegiance from the Republican Party to the Democrat Party in the name of self-interest.



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