Cook: Remembering The Elaine Race Massacre

by Michael Cook ([email protected]) 683 views 

An article in today’s The Daily Beast covers Arkansas’s 1919 Elaine Race Massacre, which sadly is a largely forgotten stain on our state’s history.

It’s often so forgotten that the event is referred to as the “Elaine Race Riot,” even though only five whites died, but 237 blacks were murdered. That’s not a riot in my book, that’s a massacre.

The first paragraph from The Daily Beast article succinctly sums up the September 1919 event in Phillips County:

In 1919, in the wake of World War I, African American sharecroppers unionized in Arkansas, unleashing a wave of white vigilantism and mass murder that left 237 people dead.

At its core, the Elaine Race Massacre was about the white power structure using violence to keep the black community in its place in a county that at the time was roughly 75% black. Even though 237 blacks were killed by whites, no white person was ever prosecuted, but 12 black people were convicted and quickly hung.

Race has been the dominant issue of Southern politics for more than 100 years and we’re still grappling with race in this former Confederate state. The latest example is the debate over whether or not to honor Robert E. Lee and Martin Luther King, Jr. on the exact same day.

Some white Arkansans hate even discussing the topic of race and our state’s past racial injustices. Some prefer to cloud over the issue of race by creating a bit of revisionist phrasing when describing past or current events.

For example, they creatively argue the Civil War was simply about state’s rights, or that the opposition to Barack Obama in Arkansas has nothing to do with his race, or that the events in Elaine in 1919 were a riot. All three of those examples are shading over the facts, purposefully masking the truth lest some would be forced to confront some inconvenient truths.

I’ve always believed that to determine the direction of our future, we must fully understand, and come to terms with, our past. We have not yet come to terms with Arkansas’s past, but I remain hopeful that one day we will.

Which is why I highly recommend reading today’ s article.

If you’d like to learn more about the Elaine Race Massacre, I also recommend reading Grif Stockley’s book “Blood In Their Eyes: The Elaine Race Massacre of 1919.” And last week, The New York Times published an article on Southern lynchings that included a map you’ll find interesting. I’ve added it at the bottom of this post.

Let’s fully understand our state’s past so that together we can create a path that leads us to an even better Arkansas.