Friday, September 22, 2023

The 1919 Massacre Of Over 200 Blacks In The Elaine, Arkansas (Bitter History)

The Red Summer racial massacre in Elaine, Arkansas 1919, was one of the foremost race riots in America recorded during the early 20th century.

Though an exact number of casually is still unknown, an estimated 200 African Americans are said to have been killed along with five whites, during the racial massacre in Elaine, Arkansas. All of these were an effort to drive African Americans out of Philips County.

In a short book by Ida B. Wells, founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, he wrote of the violence and terror which was meted on African Americans, just because whites wanted them to leave Elaine.

Several popular tabloids owned by African Americans, like Chicago Defender, started generating several publications to campaign against the unsolicited drama.

There was a meeting arranged by African Americans on the night of September 30, 1919, with approximately 100 persons attending. A great number of attendees at the meeting convened by Progressive Farmers and Household Union of America at a church in Hoop Spur (a small community in Phillips County, Arkansas), were sharecroppers on the plantations of white landowners. The main focus of organizing the gathering was to find better payments for their crops, mostly cotton.

Aware of the white reservations for communalist influence on blacks, they had posted guards around the church premises to curtail interruption. However, during the meeting, three white men stepped up in front of the church, with one asking the guards “Going coon hunting, boys?” Immediately Gunfire burst forth after the guard had failed to respond.

Though there was a bit of debate as per who fired the gun, the guards ended up killing a security officer from the Missouri-Pacific Railroad named W. A. Adkins and injured the deputy sheriff, Charles Pratt. The next morning, an all-white group, led by the Sherrif, on their way to arrest the suspects, encountered little opposition from the black community.

The blacks outnumbered them in a ten-to-one situation, resulting in great fear of insurrection. The whites formed a mob numbering about 1000 fully armed men, with several of them coming from as far away as Tennessee, Mississippi, and surrounding counties. On arrival at Elaine, Arkansas, the armed mob began ransacking the African American homes and killing them.

As soon as the news of Attack started spreading in the African American community, some black residents armed themselves in defense while others fled. The attention of the mob was now to disarm the blacks who retaliated.

As against the African American papers, local white newspapers added a bit of gasoline in the fire by reporting that the uprising was planned by the Blacks. These false reports alerted the U.S. army, and troops were sent to Elaine immediately. Federal American troops rounded up and placed several hundred blacks in temporary enclosures, with some reports of torture.

They were considerable evidence that many of the soldiers sent to quash the violence engaged in the illogical killing of black residents. However, men were not released except when vouched for by their white employers.

African Americans indicted for participating in Eliane, Arkansas Riot / Source: Public Domain
African Americans indicted for participating in Eliane, Arkansas Riot / Source: Public Domain

As all of the violence will finally come to an end, 122 blacks were charged by the Phillips County grand jury for crimes related to the riots. 12 men were tried first for first-degree murder and were later convicted and sentenced to death as well. This prompted the other 65 to bargains and accepted up to 21 years for second-degree murder.

The NAACP led by Scipio Africanus Jones and other American civil rights groups worked on a possible retrial and release of Elaine Twelve, whom they eventually won.

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