On October 1, 1919, the event of
another race riot had occurred in Phillips County. The event took place a night
before at Elaine Ark. The riot began by Negros who murdered some white officers
in a disagreement and the white people retaliated. This riot orgy of bloodshed
could not be stopped until the United States had to dispatch their army force
from Camp Pike to Phillips County. Hundreds of Negro, farmers and laborers
including women were captured and jailed in Helena, Arkansas, the capital of
Phillips County. Various national organizations who understood the equal right
league sent a letter concerning the Negroes case to the Governor of Phillips
County but the Governor declined it because he believed that justice was served
to the Negroes1. An equal-rights Chicago branch firm sent a telegram
message to the Senators requesting for the United States government to
intervene and protect the Negroes from injustice.
letter was unanimously written to the Governor of Phillips County by Chicago
people’s movement. Whereas, the news of the twelve Negros being kill by the electric
chair was all over the press. However, evidence shows that the riot began
because the Negroes formed a union to protect their cotton crops. The Governor
of Phillips decided to organize a meeting at Little Rock Arkansas, where he
came to find out that his fellow colored men were disappointed in the injustice
made over the case of the Negroes. On that same week, Chicago defenders wrote a
letter of appeal throughout the country to raise funds for the Negroes to have
another trial at the Supreme Court of Arkansas1. There
was a great response from the people all over the country and other firms the
lawyer was involved with.
The Negros created the union for the
essence to protect their crop and to have a market price for their cotton, in
order to have their own land and lawyer to get settlements of their accounts
with their white proprietors. They thought that it was their chance to earn
more money and get out from their white proprietor’s thumb. The white landowner
who rents the land often, owns an open account for the tenants where he must
pay the price charged or not get the supplies and food for his family and hired
hands. When the cotton was ready to be sold, the white owner gave the Negro his
bill for the year and what he will allow him for his crops. According to the
state law at the time, if he did not pay his debt, it would be a penal offense.
Negro had no freedom or right to protect his property. The union was established
under the Act of Congress in 1865, which was fifty-five years ago. It was later
revised and reorganized in 1897: Robert L. Hill and others revised and applied
the Act. Later, under the orders of the Supreme Court of Arkansas, it was
official and incorporated in 1918 at Little Rock, Arkansas. This union only
became a crime due to cotton being the king of agriculture products of the
South. Cotton was selling at 45-50 cents per pound, the highest price since the
Civil War. This indicated that Negroes were in a fair way to become independent
and this was not in the interest of the white proprietors to allow them to do
Tuesday, September 30th, a group of peaceful and law-abiding Negroes
were having a meeting in their church at Hood Spur. There were over two hundred
Negroes who attended this meeting, it being a large mixture of men, women and
children. Suddenly, at around 11 ‘o clock, the lights went off and a group of
white gunmen began shooting aimlessly in the church, leaving many innocent
people 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 the
following day, the gunmen came back and burnt the church down to clear any
evidence of an attack. Due to the death of W. A. Adkins, the attack was said to
be a conspiracy by the Negroes to kill the white man. If this really was a
conspiracy to the kill W. A. Adkins, they would not have broken up their own
meeting, killed their own nor burn down their church to the ground as
Wells-Barnett puts it2. Instead,
they would of attacked the white men in their own gathering. However, Clinton
Lee was another white man who was also shot during the attack. Clinton died on
the same day the church had been burned down and he was killed because he and hundreds
of 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 like
crazy men. This situation was one of the reasons why over one hundred Negroes
were arrested and either sentenced to be killed or sent to the penitentiary for
a crime they weren’t guilt of.
action of the unprejudiced jury to sentence Negroes for protecting and guarding
their properties and families against an unprovoked attack portrays the
discrimination in the justice system3.
It also clearly shows that the white men are the ones who have a conspiracy to
kill the Negroes. The white men conspired to kill the Negroes because they had their
own crops. The Negroes who were sentenced to death and put in jail were simply
gathering their crop of cotton and corn. The white proprietors drove the
Negroes off their land, refused to feed them any longer, and forced them to
leave their crop before the cotton was ready for harvesting. They enjoyed the using
the Negroes as labor because it allowed them to become wealthy while the
Negroes wandered from place to place, homeless, starving and penniless surviving
off the public charity.
shooting at the church began because on September 26, 1919, a group of white merchants
came to buy some cotton from a Negro by the name of Ed Ware. Ed Ware was the
secretary of the Progressive Farmers’ Household Union. He owned 120 acres of
land in cultivation and even had his own Ford car. When the crops were taken
care of, he drove to Helena, which was about 30 miles away, and made even more
money for himself by carrying passengers. However, the white merchants who came
to Ed Ware for cotton offered him 24 cents and 33 cents for the crop, but he
refused. They planned to mob him; by trying to fool him into their store, so
that they could get him. Fortunately, Ed Ware was warned of their plans and did
not fall for this trap. Ed Ware thought the situation over and decided to go to
Helena on the 29th, to give his business to the attorney so that he
would not have to deal with the white merchants. The next day, after he
returned from Helena, he attended the Progressive Farmers Household Union
meeting at the church at Hood Spur as usual. At these meetings, they usually discuss
on how to advance and protect their businesses. Once again, at around 11 ‘o clock
that night, while the meeting was going on, the lights shut off. A group of white
men barged in, standing at the front of the church and begin shooting at the
Negroes. However, before the white men came to attack the church, they went to
Ed Ware’s home but did not find him.
Archdale was the manager Mrs. Jackson’s farm in Elaine, Arkansas. He was a
leader in the movement against people of color. Billy had a farm he rented for
three years and began hiring colored people to work on it for crop shares for
him. The year before, he had decided to employ Negroe families to work on his own
farm. The farm was a mile and a half from Elaine, Arkansas. After the Negroes were
done with the crops, he drove them out by not feeding them, taking away their
furniture, driving them out of their homes, taking their food supplies and
insisting they are in his debt for the supplies he gave them for the plants in
their farms. Billy benefited a lot from this riot; he took advantage and
mistreated Negros the way he found necessary to achieve wealth4. The white folks enjoyed the labor of the
Negros, jailing them, making them starve, working them extremely hard and
forcing them to become homeless.
The Johnston Boys was the mob that
murdered Jim Miller and his family. Jim was the president of the Progressive
Farmers’ Household Union of the church at Hoop Spur. Miller and his family were
killed and burned in the church to remove any evidence of there being an
attack. The Johnsons boys were the cause of W. A. Adkins and Clinton Lee
deaths. They were also responsible for the conviction of over two hundred innocent
Negros. W. A. Adkins and Clinton were laid to rest and the trial began of
convicting the fellows who were accused of perpetrating the act. It was not
clear who killed the Johnston boys, but it is known that a powerful rifle was used
at a very close range5.
The Johnston boys, together with a white driver, were killed by a mob and left
on the street until the afternoon of the following day. The case involving the
murder of Clinton Lee began on October 17, 1919. Frank Kicks was accused of
killing Clinton with a gun. In the case, one of the witnesses confirmed the
allegations by stating that Mr. Frank himself had given him the account of how
he killed Lee while shooting at the crowd. Mr. Frank was convicted and
sentenced to death.
Interestingly enough, an appeal was
filed against the conviction of Mr. Frank. The appellant, together with the
attorney, stated that the conviction of Mr. Frank did not follow the due
process of the law and therefore was illegal. This led to the eruption of cases
which involved discrimination in the conviction of Negros such as Alf Banks.
Alf Banks, being one of the defendants, stated that he had been tortured and
convicted of electrocution without sufficient evidence to prove that he murdered
the Johnston brothers. The wrangles in court over the discrimination of the
conviction of the blacks led to the strengthening of the Progressive Farmers
Household Union, which championed the rights of the Negros.
Consequently, there was an emergence
of the black groups fighting for better treatment. The groups were concerned
about equality and better wages for the black people. This situation worsened
the already weakening relationship between the whites and blacks. As the labor
movement was pushing for better living conditions, the white landowners were becoming
even more furious. The Negros were unaware of the dissatisfaction among the
white people until on the night of November 30th, 1919. That night,
the Labor movement had congregated in a church at Elaine, Arkansas with a
population of over 150 individuals in attendance. Wells-Barnett states that
children and women were also in attendance when four automobiles suddenly
appeared and shot into the crowd 6.
Several black people were killed but the crowd managed to fire back, killing a
white person who was one of the attackers. Six Negroes were condemned to
electrocution following the act. However, a retail was done on the basis that
there had been no justice served. The six black men were found not guilty and
given their freedom back and their lives saved.
The case, Moore v. Dempsey (1923) is
one that will forever have the legacy of instituting justice at a time when
racism was at its peak 7.
Justice Holmes was observed to have a neutral standpoint by giving a ruling
that did not favor the black or the white race. The case was petitioned by two
black individuals, who accused two other white individuals of organizing the
attack at the church against the blacks. The blacks responded by murdering a
white person. This event led to a series of counterattacks back and forth between
the white and black people. When Justice Holmes was giving his ruling, he found
that both the petitioner and the appellant were guilty of instigating the Elaine
Arkansas Riot 8.
This case is historic in two ways. Firstly, the case was among one of the first
cases involving racism and widely caught the attention of the public. During
the early nineteenth century, many cases of racism were not taken with
significant weight. This led to many of the perpetrators of racial
discrimination being able to get away with the wrongdoing. However, this
particular case involved justice in favor of skin color or cultural background.
Secondly, the case has a champion legacy for the justice rather than portraying
the superior race. Contrary to many cases that had the reputation of convicting
innocent 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 of
racism that existed in the early nineteen century is enough to give it a legacy
of its own.
I enjoyed typing this paper very much
as it allowed me to conduct in-depth research and analyse what truly happened
involving the events that occurred in Elaine, Arkansas. It almost felt as if I
was being a detective, uncovering evidence in old newspapers to support and
explain historical events.
1. Rogers, O. A. “The Elaine Race Riots of
1919.” The Arkansas Historical Quarterly 19, no. 2
2. Wells-Barnett, Ida B. “The Arkansas Race Riot.”
3. Madigan, Tim. The Burning: Massacre, destruction, and
the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. Macmillan, 2001.
4. Lieberson, Stanley, and Arnold R. Silverman. “The
precipitants and underlying conditions of race riots.” American
Sociological Review (1965): 887-898.
5. Waskow, Arthur I., and Arthur Ocean Waskow. From race
riot to sit-in, 1919 and the 1960s: A study in the connections between conflict
and violence. Peter Smith Pub Incorporated, 1966.
6. Wells-Barnett, Ida B. “The Arkansas Race Riot.”
7. Stockley, G., 2001. Blood in Their Eyes: the Elaine
Race Massacres of 1919 (p). University of Arkansas Press.
8. Moore v. Dempsey, 261 U.S. 86, 43
S. Ct. 265, 67 L. Ed. 543 (1923).
9. Williams, Lee E. Anatomy of four race riots: racial
conflict in Knoxville, Elaine (Arkansas), Tulsa, and Chicago, 1919-1921.
Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2008.