Tag Archives: racism

Elaine Race Massacre

Pearl River     Cities throughout America are erupting once again over the extra juridical killing of a black man by the police.  Some voices are calling for calm, while President Trump calls for chaos.  The “powers that be” would have us believe that this is one rouge cop with a record of police brutality.  The protestors would have us believe this is part of the systemic racism that has brought the stain of blood on our country and its people since the founding.

Talking to J. Chester Johnson, the Arkansas-bred, New York City-based, poet and scholar about his new book, Damaged Heritage:  The Elaine Race Massacre and a Story of Reconciliation, on Wade’s World doesn’t leave much room for any conclusion other than the fact that country remains poisoned by the unreconciled racism dating back to slavery.  We’re only a bit over one-hundred years after the massacre in Elaine, Arkansas in the rich delta farmland in Phillips County, near Helena on the Mississippi River.  The several days of killing ended with somewhere between 100 and 235 African-American dead and a couple of whites. This was state-sponsored terrorism.  Most of the killing was done by federal troops that were mobilized from Fort Pike near Little Rock, originally named after Zebulon Pike, credited with the name of Pike’s Peak and later named Camp Joseph T. Robinson after the Arkansas Senator.  Some of the white deaths came from their friendly fire.  In the hullabaloo, the Governor at that time led the troops to Elaine for the killing.

In classic American fashion this was set off by the combustible mixture of class and race.  Robert Hill, an African-American coming back from service in World War I, was dissatisfied with the piddling paid to sharecroppers when cotton prices were at record highs in the war years.  Intuitively understanding the power of uniting community and labor interests, he began organizing several chapters of the Progressive Farmers and Household Union in and around Elaine.  Local planters, who were both employers and landlords, getting wind of the organizing, heard there was a meeting in a church in Hoops Spur.  A deputy sheriff and a carload went out late the night of September 30, 1919, to roust participants and disrupt the meeting, firing some shots towards the church.  Hill and the members were alert to potential trouble and had armed guards around the church.  It was on, and they fired back, killing one, and wounding the deputy.  Then came the deluge in subsequent days and a “killing field,” as Johnson calls it once the troops came as well as others from Tennessee, Mississippi, and southern Arkansas looking for blood, including Johnson’s grandfather who lived in Monticello and came up from McGehee where he worked for the Missouri-Pacific Railroad there.

The only bright notes in the Elaine story are Hill’s organizing, the work of the Little Rock-based lawyer Scipio Africanus Jones with the NAACP, and the renowned African-American journalist Ida B. Wells whose reporting and investigation brought news of the massacre coast to coast and out of the delta.  The long shadow cast by the events in Elaine is also slightly brightened by the decision written by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes in Moore v. Dempsey that established the legal precedent central in the later civil rights movement that federal courts could intervene and overturn state and local courts where there were manifest instances denying the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution because of bias and racism.

What a horror!  What did we learn?  Johnson speaks of reconciliation in his book and on a personal level he seems to have found it, but in a hundred years we seem to have traded lynching and massacres for state sponsored racism at every level and police brutality and court approved immunity.

Listen to the protests in the streets of America now.  Same song.  Different verse.


Video Protection

New Orleans   There’s a very clear lesson emerging from all the news these days:  keep your cellphone handy and learn how to press video record.  It might not save your life, but it might bring you or someone else justice, and that’s still important.  You can be a good neighbor by bringing in someone’s trash can or making a trip to the grocery store or pharmacy, but you can also be Johnny-on-the-spot when the stuff goes down and be the one who has the video on their cellphone that might make all of the difference in the world.

We see the evidence almost every day during police encounters.  Someone with a quick cellphone video in Minneapolis bared the lie on the police report of the death and resistance of a black man on the streets there. The video made it clear that one cop’s knee was on the man’s neck, and he was telling them he couldn’t breathe.  This sounds like a rerun doesn’t it?  All four of these policemen were summarily fired.  The investigation was quick and conclusive.  What does it take for the police to learn that they need to do right or the public is increasingly aware and ready?

Videos are exposing the commonplace racism that African-Americans, especially black men, are experiencing regularly.

In a gated community in Oklahoma, a black delivery driver was blocked by two men from exiting after making his delivery.  They claimed they were from the homeowners’ association, and demanded to know where he was going and how he got the gate code.  He wouldn’t tell them the name of the customer, because it was private, despite their threat to call the police.  He recorded them on Faeebook Live.  He called the police himself.

In New York City’s Central Park an African-American, Harvard-educated birdwatcher asked a woman to leash her dog, as is required by the park.  She refused, and be began recording the exchange.  She threatened him, and then did call the police and falsely claimed she was being assaulted by an African-American man.  Eventually, the police didn’t come, and she leashed and left with her dog.  His sister posted the video and internet sleuths were able to identify the woman and her dog.  Marks on the cocker spaniel, led to her being forced to return the dog to the rescue agency that had allowed her to have it.  Finding that she was working for Franklin-Templeton investment group led to her being fired when even they couldn’t tolerate her racism.

Good manners may have died.  The rouge police may be out of control.  The rich, privileged, and entitled may think they own the world. There are many morals to this story, but one of them is that it makes sense to practice your cellphone skills.  Practice your draw from pocket to hand.  Make the route from your trigger finger to the video icon seamless even in the dark and without your glasses.  A fast finger on the smartphone video recorder may end up being what saves you and our community.  They “gotta learn.”