ELAINE, Ark. — There’s a reckoning coming this weekend.
One hundred years is a fitting time to account for the massacre of hundreds of Arkansans on the Delta farmland of Phillips county in 1919.
And while a memorial goes up there, that accounting will take place across the whole state.
“We actually don’t know how bad it gets. Estimates of the dead range from 15 to upward of over 800,” said Christina Schutt with the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center.
There is one thing of many that Schutt said we need to understand about the massacre. “It was part of a larger narrative that historians refer to as Red Summer,” Schutt said.
According to Dr. Brian K Mitchell, Ph.D. a professor of history at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, it was the largest mass terror lynching in U.S. history.
Despite those shocking statistics, the Elaine Race Massacre is an event almost forgotten to history.
“Black soldiers come back from World War I. They believe that they are citizens now that they have participated on behalf of the country. And they find themselves being cheated once again by plantation owners,” Dr. Mitchell said.
Those sharecroppers tried to form a union.
Landowners infiltrated their meeting, forced a confrontation and days of bloodshed began.
Calling it an insurrection, federal troops rolled into Phillips county.
“Machine gun units are sent out to suppress the revolution… the supposed revolution.”
The massacre died down only because the harvest arrived.
Dozens of black men ended up under arrest.
Years later, they would be exonerated by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“This becomes really the first major victory for the NAACP and the first real blow against lynching in America,” said Dr. Mitchell.
But despite that victory, violence remains a plague to this day.
Jim Crow stayed in place for decades, and there are still echos of what happened in our modern world.
All the more reason to retell the story now and in the future.
“Ultimately, it’s the remembering and the telling of those stories that will allow it to live on and truly be the memorial to the victims of Elaine that they truly deserve.”