J. Frank Holt was a major figure in Arkansas legal and political circles in the 1950s and 1960s. He served in numerous public offices, including two terms on the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Joseph Franklin Holt was born on October 22, 1910, in Harrison (Boone County). One of eleven children of Noah Calvin “Bud” Holt and Malicia Adeline Moore Holt, he grew up in Harrison, where he sold newspapers and worked in a garage while in high school before attending the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). He had to drop out of college and return home due to the Great Depression. He worked a variety of jobs, including selling insurance, teaching in the Cotter (Baxter County) school district, and serving as a clerk in the Arkansas Highway Department before returning to school and earning his law degree from the University of Arkansas in 1937. The following year, he was awarded a scholarship to study at the Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. Upon his return, he began work in the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office, which was then headed by his older brother, Jack. Holt also worked on his brother’s unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1942 as well as his gubernatorial campaigns in 1948 and 1952.
He began working in private practice in Little Rock (Pulaski County), but that was interrupted by World War II. He served as an enlisted man in U.S. Army Intelligence. Following the war, Holt returned to private practice, entering into a partnership with his brother Jack in Little Rock. In 1948, he returned to public service, being appointed deputy prosecuting attorney for the Sixth Judicial District (covering Pulaski and Perry counties). He was subsequently elected prosecuting attorney for the district and served from 1954 to 1960, a tenure that included the events surrounding the desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High School. While he was besieged by constant threats and calls and was frequently spat upon by segregationists, Holt focused on performing the responsibilities of his office professionally. Foremost among his work was the successful prosecution of the perpetrators of the 1959 Labor Day bombing who had sought to halt the desegregation effort.
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