On October 1, 1919, the event ofanother race riot had occurred in Phillips County.
The event took place a nightbefore at Elaine Ark. The riot began by Negros who murdered some white officersin a disagreement and the white people retaliated. This riot orgy of bloodshedcould not be stopped until the United States had to dispatch their army forcefrom Camp Pike to Phillips County. Hundreds of Negro, farmers and laborersincluding women were captured and jailed in Helena, Arkansas, the capital ofPhillips County.
Various national organizations who understood the equal rightleague sent a letter concerning the Negroes case to the Governor of PhillipsCounty but the Governor declined it because he believed that justice was servedto the Negroes1. An equal-rights Chicago branch firm sent a telegrammessage to the Senators requesting for the United States government tointervene and protect the Negroes from injustice. Aletter was unanimously written to the Governor of Phillips County by Chicagopeople’s movement. Whereas, the news of the twelve Negros being kill by the electricchair was all over the press. However, evidence shows that the riot beganbecause the Negroes formed a union to protect their cotton crops. The Governorof Phillips decided to organize a meeting at Little Rock Arkansas, where hecame to find out that his fellow colored men were disappointed in the injusticemade over the case of the Negroes. On that same week, Chicago defenders wrote aletter of appeal throughout the country to raise funds for the Negroes to haveanother trial at the Supreme Court of Arkansas1.
Therewas a great response from the people all over the country and other firms thelawyer was involved with. The Negros created the union for theessence to protect their crop and to have a market price for their cotton, inorder to have their own land and lawyer to get settlements of their accountswith their white proprietors. They thought that it was their chance to earnmore money and get out from their white proprietor’s thumb. The white landownerwho rents the land often, owns an open account for the tenants where he mustpay the price charged or not get the supplies and food for his family and hiredhands. When the cotton was ready to be sold, the white owner gave the Negro hisbill for the year and what he will allow him for his crops. According to thestate law at the time, if he did not pay his debt, it would be a penal offense. ThisNegro had no freedom or right to protect his property.
The union was establishedunder the Act of Congress in 1865, which was fifty-five years ago. It was laterrevised and reorganized in 1897: Robert L. Hill and others revised and appliedthe Act. Later, under the orders of the Supreme Court of Arkansas, it wasofficial and incorporated in 1918 at Little Rock, Arkansas. This union onlybecame a crime due to cotton being the king of agriculture products of theSouth. Cotton was selling at 45-50 cents per pound, the highest price since theCivil War. This indicated that Negroes were in a fair way to become independentand this was not in the interest of the white proprietors to allow them to doso.
OnTuesday, September 30th, a group of peaceful and law-abiding Negroeswere having a meeting in their church at Hood Spur. There were over two hundredNegroes who attended this meeting, it being a large mixture of men, women andchildren. Suddenly, at around 11 ‘o clock, the lights went off and a group ofwhite gunmen began shooting aimlessly in the church, leaving many innocentpeople dead and injured.
According to the records, a white man by the name of W.A. Adkins was shot dead at the front of the church during the attack. On thefollowing day, the gunmen came back and burnt the church down to clear anyevidence of an attack. Due to the death of W. A. Adkins, the attack was said tobe a conspiracy by the Negroes to kill the white man. If this really was aconspiracy to the kill W.
A. Adkins, they would not have broken up their ownmeeting, killed their own nor burn down their church to the ground asWells-Barnett puts it2. Instead,they would of attacked the white men in their own gathering. However, ClintonLee was another white man who was also shot during the attack. Clinton died onthe same day the church had been burned down and he was killed because he and hundredsof other white men were chasing and slaughtering every Negro they could find,driving them out of their homes and chasing them into the woods and fields likecrazy men.
This situation was one of the reasons why over one hundred Negroeswere arrested and either sentenced to be killed or sent to the penitentiary fora crime they weren’t guilt of. Theaction of the unprejudiced jury to sentence Negroes for protecting and guardingtheir properties and families against an unprovoked attack portrays thediscrimination in the justice system3.It also clearly shows that the white men are the ones who have a conspiracy tokill the Negroes. The white men conspired to kill the Negroes because they had theirown crops. The Negroes who were sentenced to death and put in jail were simplygathering their crop of cotton and corn.
The white proprietors drove theNegroes off their land, refused to feed them any longer, and forced them toleave their crop before the cotton was ready for harvesting. They enjoyed the usingthe Negroes as labor because it allowed them to become wealthy while theNegroes wandered from place to place, homeless, starving and penniless survivingoff the public charity. Theshooting at the church began because on September 26, 1919, a group of white merchantscame to buy some cotton from a Negro by the name of Ed Ware. Ed Ware was thesecretary of the Progressive Farmers’ Household Union. He owned 120 acres ofland in cultivation and even had his own Ford car. When the crops were takencare of, he drove to Helena, which was about 30 miles away, and made even moremoney for himself by carrying passengers.
However, the white merchants who cameto Ed Ware for cotton offered him 24 cents and 33 cents for the crop, but herefused. They planned to mob him; by trying to fool him into their store, sothat they could get him. Fortunately, Ed Ware was warned of their plans and didnot fall for this trap. Ed Ware thought the situation over and decided to go toHelena on the 29th, to give his business to the attorney so that hewould not have to deal with the white merchants. The next day, after hereturned from Helena, he attended the Progressive Farmers Household Unionmeeting at the church at Hood Spur as usual. At these meetings, they usually discusson how to advance and protect their businesses. Once again, at around 11 ‘o clockthat night, while the meeting was going on, the lights shut off. A group of whitemen barged in, standing at the front of the church and begin shooting at theNegroes.
However, before the white men came to attack the church, they went toEd Ware’s home but did not find him. BillyArchdale was the manager Mrs. Jackson’s farm in Elaine, Arkansas. He was aleader in the movement against people of color. Billy had a farm he rented forthree years and began hiring colored people to work on it for crop shares forhim.
The year before, he had decided to employ Negroe families to work on his ownfarm. The farm was a mile and a half from Elaine, Arkansas. After the Negroes weredone with the crops, he drove them out by not feeding them, taking away theirfurniture, driving them out of their homes, taking their food supplies andinsisting they are in his debt for the supplies he gave them for the plants intheir farms. Billy benefited a lot from this riot; he took advantage andmistreated Negros the way he found necessary to achieve wealth4. The white folks enjoyed the labor of theNegros, jailing them, making them starve, working them extremely hard andforcing them to become homeless. The Johnston Boys was the mob thatmurdered Jim Miller and his family.
Jim was the president of the ProgressiveFarmers’ Household Union of the church at Hoop Spur. Miller and his family werekilled and burned in the church to remove any evidence of there being anattack. The Johnsons boys were the cause of W. A. Adkins and Clinton Leedeaths. They were also responsible for the conviction of over two hundred innocentNegros.
W. A. Adkins and Clinton were laid to rest and the trial began ofconvicting the fellows who were accused of perpetrating the act. It was notclear who killed the Johnston boys, but it is known that a powerful rifle was usedat a very close range5.
The Johnston boys, together with a white driver, were killed by a mob and lefton the street until the afternoon of the following day. The case involving themurder of Clinton Lee began on October 17, 1919. Frank Kicks was accused ofkilling Clinton with a gun. In the case, one of the witnesses confirmed theallegations by stating that Mr. Frank himself had given him the account of howhe killed Lee while shooting at the crowd. Mr.
Frank was convicted andsentenced to death.Interestingly enough, an appeal wasfiled against the conviction of Mr. Frank. The appellant, together with theattorney, stated that the conviction of Mr. Frank did not follow the dueprocess of the law and therefore was illegal. This led to the eruption of caseswhich involved discrimination in the conviction of Negros such as Alf Banks.Alf Banks, being one of the defendants, stated that he had been tortured andconvicted of electrocution without sufficient evidence to prove that he murderedthe Johnston brothers. The wrangles in court over the discrimination of theconviction of the blacks led to the strengthening of the Progressive FarmersHousehold Union, which championed the rights of the Negros.
Consequently, there was an emergenceof the black groups fighting for better treatment. The groups were concernedabout equality and better wages for the black people. This situation worsenedthe already weakening relationship between the whites and blacks. As the labormovement was pushing for better living conditions, the white landowners were becomingeven more furious. The Negros were unaware of the dissatisfaction among thewhite people until on the night of November 30th, 1919. That night,the Labor movement had congregated in a church at Elaine, Arkansas with apopulation of over 150 individuals in attendance. Wells-Barnett states thatchildren and women were also in attendance when four automobiles suddenlyappeared and shot into the crowd 6.Several black people were killed but the crowd managed to fire back, killing awhite person who was one of the attackers.
Six Negroes were condemned toelectrocution following the act. However, a retail was done on the basis thatthere had been no justice served. The six black men were found not guilty andgiven their freedom back and their lives saved.
The case, Moore v. Dempsey (1923) isone that will forever have the legacy of instituting justice at a time whenracism was at its peak 7.Justice Holmes was observed to have a neutral standpoint by giving a rulingthat did not favor the black or the white race. The case was petitioned by twoblack individuals, who accused two other white individuals of organizing theattack at the church against the blacks. The blacks responded by murdering awhite person. This event led to a series of counterattacks back and forth betweenthe white and black people. When Justice Holmes was giving his ruling, he foundthat both the petitioner and the appellant were guilty of instigating the ElaineArkansas Riot 8.
This case is historic in two ways. Firstly, the case was among one of the firstcases involving racism and widely caught the attention of the public. Duringthe early nineteenth century, many cases of racism were not taken withsignificant weight. This led to many of the perpetrators of racialdiscrimination being able to get away with the wrongdoing. However, thisparticular case involved justice in favor of skin color or cultural background.Secondly, the case has a champion legacy for the justice rather than portrayingthe superior race. Contrary to many cases that had the reputation of convictinginnocent black people, this case ruled without the favor of any single side 9.The fact that the case involved significant historical events of the level ofracism that existed in the early nineteen century is enough to give it a legacyof its own.
I enjoyed typing this paper very muchas it allowed me to conduct in-depth research and analyse what truly happenedinvolving the events that occurred in Elaine, Arkansas. It almost felt as if Iwas being a detective, uncovering evidence in old newspapers to support andexplain historical events.1. Rogers, O. A.
“The Elaine Race Riots of1919.” The Arkansas Historical Quarterly 19, no. 2(1960): 142-150.2. Wells-Barnett, Ida B. “The Arkansas Race Riot.”(1920).
3. Madigan, Tim. The Burning: Massacre, destruction, andthe Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. Macmillan, 2001. 4. Lieberson, Stanley, and Arnold R. Silverman. “Theprecipitants and underlying conditions of race riots.
” AmericanSociological Review (1965): 887-898. 5. Waskow, Arthur I., and Arthur Ocean Waskow. From raceriot to sit-in, 1919 and the 1960s: A study in the connections between conflictand violence. Peter Smith Pub Incorporated, 1966.
6. Wells-Barnett, Ida B. “The Arkansas Race Riot.”(1920).
7. Stockley, G., 2001.
Blood in Their Eyes: the ElaineRace Massacres of 1919 (p). University of Arkansas Press. 8. Moore v. Dempsey, 261 U.S.
86, 43S. Ct. 265, 67 L. Ed.
543 (1923). 9. Williams, Lee E.
Anatomy of four race riots: racialconflict in Knoxville, Elaine (Arkansas), Tulsa, and Chicago, 1919-1921.Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2008.