Remember the Elaine Masscare



In this June 15, 2019, photo, men work near a monument under construction honoring victims of the Elaine Massacre that sits across from the Phillips County courthouse in Helena, Ark. The Elaine Massacre Memorial is set to be unveiled in September and is being chaired by some descendants of the massacre’s perpetrators and victims. (AP Photo/Noreen Nasir)

Maggie Hart , Writer

The Elaine Massacre was, and still is one of the most horrific racial conflicts in the history of Arkansas.  On September 30, 1919 an estimate of one-hundred black sharecroppers who worked on the plantations of white landowners went to a meeting held by the Progressive Farmers and Household Union of America at a church in Hoop Spur, AR. three miles away from Elaine.  The reason for this meeting was to obtain fairer wages for their cotton crops. African Americans were often exploited at this time for work because of their social status in the American hierarchy.


The leaders of the Hoop Spur union placed armed guards around the church for protection against white supremeists.  Sometime around midnight that night a group of local white men, some who were rumored to be law enforcement, fired shots at the church, and as one would expect, shots were fired back.  The consequences of the shootout were the death of one white man named W.A. Adkins and wounding another man named Charles Pratt, the deputy sheriff of Phillips County.


The news of this incident traveled fast. Lies spread around the county that the African Americans were a part of a group that challenged the white supremacists ideals of that time period.  The morning after the shootout, the Phillips County sheriff sent out a troop of people to arrest black citizens they suspected of being at the shooting. They led around 1,000 armed white people, from around the neighboring counties, and some from Mississippi.  They called these men here to stop what they called an “insurrection.”


On October 1st the authorities of Phillips County sent multiple requests to Governor Brough to petition for U.S troops be sent to Elaine.  He responded by acquiring permission from the Department of War to send five-hundred highly trained-heavily armed troops from Camp Pike (Pulaski County) to Elaine. The men were under orders to kill any African American man who refused to surrender, which caused the deaths of more than 200 individuals.    The troops arrived in Elaine the next morning, soon after, the white mobs settled down and returned to their homes.  The military settled hundreds of black people in temporary prisons that were in horrible condition, so they could interrogate them until their white employers could vouch for them.

The barbarity of this massacre even claimed lives of those who had nothing to do with the Progressive Farmers and  Household Union of America, like brothers David Augustine Elihue Johnston, Lewis Harris Johnston, Leroy Johnston, and Gibson Allen Johnston, who were only coming back from a family hunting trip, when they were slaughtered.


There is plenty of evidence that indicates that the mobs murdered many innocent African Amercans, around and in Elaine.  Witnesses  said several hundred men began to “hunt and shoot” the African Americans as they came near them.   Evidence also proposed that the soldiers from Camp Pike instructed for these mobs to kill the African Americans.  These mobs went out and slaughtered Africian American, men, women, and children.  The deaths of these innocent people has never been properly counted.  The sharecroppers had one goal going in that church that night, to attain fair wages for their crops, but the horrible events of that unleashed many unjust murders, and hate crimes against Afriacan Amercians.


Despite the Elaine Massacre being one of the most heinous atrocities ever committed, few in Arkansas know of the gruesome history of our state’s past. While the tragedies that took place in the past cannot be changed, forgetting them will only prevent us from healing as a nation, and learning from our mistakes. For this reason, it is essential to remember the individuals who were killed in Elaine, and the gross injustices that took place slightly over  a century ago.