Local historian explores Arkansas, Southern history

By Susan Peterson

The ultimatum “publish or perish” has never been a problem for Dr. Kenneth C. Barnes, a 28year veteran of the History Department at the University of Central Arkansas.

Originally from Clinton, Barnes received his bachelor’s degree from UCA. He broadened his world views by attending the University of East Anglia (England), where he earned a master’s degree in European history followed by a Ph.D. in history from Duke University. Before returning to UCA in 1992, he taught at Concordia UniversityChicago and the University of Southern Mississippi.

In 1896, the ship Laurada will travel to Liberia with approximately 300 passengers, half of them from Arkansas. The image was featured on the cover of Barnes’ book “Journey of Hope: The Back-to-Africa Movement in Arkansas”

His early scholarly publications were on German religious history. But after returning to his home state to teach, his interests leaned toward Arkansas and Southern history. He published “Who Killed John Clayton?: Political Violence and the Emergence of the New South” (Duke University, 1998) and “Journey of Hope: The BacktoAfrica Movement in Arkansas” (North Carolina, 2004).

In 2016, he published “AntiCatholicism in Arkansas: How Politicians, Religious Leaders, the Press, and the Klan Imagined an Enemy” (University of Arkansas), which he was personally motivated to write. During the 1960s, Barnes’ brother converted to Catholicism while in high school despite the fact that his parents were openly biased against Catholics. The book garnered several awards, including the Booker Worthen Literary Prize from the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies (Central Arkansas Library System) and the J.G. Ragsdale Book Award from the Arkansas Historical Association for the best booklength study in Arkansas history.

His newest publication is “The Ku Klux Klan in 1920s Arkansas: How Protestant White Nationalism Came to Rule a State.” He documents the origins of the KKK throughout Arkansas and explains how the Klan’s attitudes and ideas linger in the state today. The book is scheduled to be released March 26 and can be preordered on Amazon.

Barnes’ wife, Debbie, is the daughter of Ruth and Herman Reese of Conway. The couple met as freshmen at UCA and married in 1978 while Barnes was doing graduate work in England. They traveled across Europe for their honeymoon.

Dr. Kenneth C. Barnes

Scholarly achievements seem to run in the family. Debbie, who was an administrator in the College of Education at UCA, retired in 2016. The couple’s children are Nick Barnes, a psychiatrist and pain physician in Boston, and their daughter, Christina Cooley, a professor of organic chemistry at Trinity University in San Antonio.

Following his retirement this May, Barnes will stay busy completing his next book, which tells the story of the Missouri & North Arkansas Railroad Strike, which was ended by mob action in Harrison in 1923. The couple intend to spend time visiting their children and four grandchildren and traveling to exotic destinations like Peru’s Machu Picchu and India.

Members of the local community have unknowingly benefitted from Barnes’ penchant for history. He helped relocate the historic Springfield Bridge to Beaverfork Lake Park, and has worked with the Faulkner County Historical Society to help organize a Pine Street museum. But perhaps the greatest benefit is that his research helps explain the mistakes society has made in the past. And if understanding the past can give us insights into the future, Barnes is a veritable fortune teller.

His books are available from Amazon.com.

Susan Peterson
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