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South Arkansas historian presents lecture on prohibition

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Eighty years after the repeal of prohibition, author and historian Ben Johnson will present a program on Arkansas’ history of regulating alcohol manufacturing, sales and consumption. Johnson is a history professor at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, and author of “John Barleycorn Must Die: The War Against Drink in Arkansas.” Johnson said the tug-of-war over alcohol in dry counties still prevails.

“Increasingly, in a number of dry counties, you have a proliferation of restaurants that are private clubs, even though in truth they’re open to anyone who walks in the door," Johnson said. "The private club licenses have turned dry counties into – how should we put it – a bit moist?”

Johnson has examined the historical complexities of prohibition over the past decade. Typically, he said, wet counties are located in the eastern lowlands of the state. But some counties in the Ozarks are changing their laws. Most notably, he said, is Benton County home to Wal-Mart’s headquarters.

“There’s nothing more Byzantine. There’s nothing more like a spider’s web than law and regulation dealing with liquor and alcohol. We continue to have court cases surrounding it in Arkansas," Johnson said.

Johnson’s presentation is Tuesday, March 12, at the South Arkansas Community College Library Auditorium in El Dorado beginning at 6:30 p.m. The history lecture series is presented by SouthArk and the South Arkansas Historical Association.