CALS Publishes Book on “Outspoken” Arkansas Judge

The Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) has added a new book to its publishing catalog. OUTSPOKEN: The Olly Neal Story is the autobiography of civil rights activist Olly Neal Jr., Arkansas’s first black district prosecuting attorney. OUTSPOKEN was published by Butler Center Books, the nonprofit publishing project of the CALS Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, and is available for purchase at stores and online retailers.

Born in 1941 in rural eastern Arkansas, Neal started and led the Lee County Cooperative Clinic in Marianna during the 1970s. He went on to become the first black district prosecuting attorney in Arkansas and served as a circuit court judge and on the Arkansas Court of Appeals. Historian Grif Stockley has characterized Neal as a civil rights activist, political agitator, Arkansas Delta advocate, and “black devil incarnate” to many of Marianna’s whites. Neal also led the National Demonstration Water Project, which funded water and sewer systems in impoverished rural counties. During these years, he became a charismatic force of nature and a powerful community organizer. Marianna and the clinic made national news, with Neal and other activists leading a boycott against white merchants in the downtown business district. At one point, he had a price on his head. The small town saw violent incidents and suffered economic damage during the boycotts, which ended without the activists’ goals being fully achieved, and this set the stage for further unrest. In 1972, soon after precarious integration of the public schools, black students staged a sit-in at the local high school. They requested a program to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and the removal of their “unqualified” white principal — another stand that was met with violence.

After earning his law degree in 1979 from what is now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law, Neal kept a modest local law practice with significant success in the courtroom defending criminal cases, then later became a deputy prosecutor, and was appointed the state’s first black district prosecuting attorney in 1991. Neal was elected circuit court judge for the First Judicial District and appointed to the Arkansas Court of Appeals, where he served with distinction for eleven years before retiring in 2007. When the First Judicial District fell into disarray in 2010, both the white and black lawyers of eastern Arkansas requested that Judge Neal step in, and he was called back to a popular temporary appointment.

In weekly conversations over several years, Neal told the story of his life to his friend and former colleague Jan Wrede, who captured his words and shaped them into what became his autobiography. Neal tells his unique story, with humor, candor, and hard-earned wisdom, explaining his rocky journey from humble beginnings in rural Lee County to public health champion and brilliant community organizer, prosecuting attorney, and appellate judge. The book is available at bookstores; in the Galleries at Library Square inside the CALS Roberts Library; from online retailers; and through the University of Arkansas Press (via University of Chicago Press) at 800-621-2736 or