Prohibition became law in Arkansas under the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which forbade the manufacture or sale of alcohol. Arkansas ratified the amendment in January 1919. It became effective on January 17, 1920, establishing a nationwide Prohibition. However, Arkansas had effectively been under prohibition for several years prior.
Early Prohibition Efforts
Temperance organizations were active in Arkansas throughout the nineteenth century. By the late 1880s, over 100 temperance or anti-saloon groups existed in the state. By 1913, thanks to the actions of organizations such as the Anti-Saloon League and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and the passage of local referendums requiring the opening of new saloons to be ratified by a majority of local voters, 66 of Arkansas' 75 counties had banned saloons. In 1915, the General Assembly passed the Newberry Act, which effectively prohibited the manufacture or sale of alcohol in the state. The following year Arkansas became one of the first states to institute complete prohibition when Governor Charles Brough signed into law legislation outlawing the importation of alcohol.
The Eighteenth Amendment
The national prohibition movement gained momentum in 1917, when the United States entered into World War I. Grain, a key ingredient in the distillation of liquor, was needed for the war effort. As such, Congress ratified the Eighteenth Amendment in January of 1919. It became effective one year later, on January 17, 1920.
During Prohibition, the illegal distillation of alcohol was a significant presence in Arkansas, especially in the Ouachita Mountains. Al Capone, who often visited Hot Springs for the spas and gambling, contracted with bootleggers in the Ouachita Forest to provide alcohol for his clubs in Chicago. This moonshine was shipped to Chicago in bottles and train cars labeled as belonging to the Hot Springs-based Mountain Valley Spring Water company.
During the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan in Arkansas organized vigilante groups they called "Cleanup Committees" to enforce the prohibition laws. The Klan was especially active in the oil towns of southern Arkansas. In November of 1922, one "Cleanup Committee" expelled an estimated 2,000 people from the town of Smackover after attacking liquor and gambling dens there.
Following the sweeping Democratic victories in the 1932 elections, long-time Arkansas Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson drafted and introduced legislation to repeal the eighteenth amendment. The measure recieved widespread support because many Americans believed the sale of alcohol would stimulate the economy, which was currently in the midst of the Great Depression. The Eighteenth Amendment was repealed in 1933.