A number of events begin this week in the runup to the dedication of the Elaine Massacre Memorial in Helena-West Helena on Sept. 29. The event marks the 100th anniversary of the Sept. 30, 1919, killings at Hoop Spur in South Phillips County, which triggered four days of assaults on African-Americans near Elaine and nearby settlements. It’s estimated that more the 200 black residents of the county were killed. Five white men died, and 12 blacks were convicted of the killing of the whites. No whites were arrested. The Elaine defendants were later released from prison due to the efforts of their attorneys, including black lawyer Scipio Africanus Jones, assisted by white lawyer Edgar McHaney and others.
Events are scheduled in Fayetteville, Little Rock, Elaine and Helena-West Helena. Some residents of Elaine take exception to the placement of the memorial in Helena-West Helena. There are competing events in Elaine as well. The various events represent a diversity of opinion on the causes of the massacre: Some in Elaine believe white cotton growers based in Helena slaughtered the black farmers to take their land; academics say the white posses, fueled by racism and fear of both insurrection by emboldened World War I veterans and possible litigation to require them to pay sharecroppers fair wages for their cotton, killed farmers indiscriminately. U.S. Army troops sent to quell the fighting also took part in the killings, according to some accounts.
The schedule of events:
Thursday, Sept. 19
“A Symposium on the Elaine Massacre”
Sponsored by the David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History, 1 E. Center St., Fayetteville.
A video by Scott Lunsford, associate director of the Pryor Center who has conducted oral interviews with residents of Phillips County, kicks off the event. Speakers include U.S. District Judge Brian S. Miller, whose great-uncles were slain during the massacre; Robert Whitaker, author of “On the Laps of Gods: The Red Summer of 1919 and the Struggle for Justice that Remade a Nation”; J. Chester Johnson, a poet and essayist whose grandfather participated in the massacre; Sheila Walker, descendant of two of the 12 African Americans who were sentenced to death for the killings of white men but later released; and Rayman L. Solomon, former dean of the Rutgers School of Law-Camden, Helena native and member of the Elaine Memorial Massacre Committee. 9 a.m.-4:15 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 26-27
“Elaine at 100: Race, Labor, and Violence in the Lower Mississippi Valley”
Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, 501 W. Ninth St., sponsored by the Diane D. Blair Center for Southern Politics and Culture at the University of Arkansas.
Presentations run 1:15 p.m. Thursday to 5:30 p.m. Friday. Academics from Southern institutions will address topics of black agricultural labor activism, white oppression, night riding, Elaine defendants lawyer Scipio Africanus Jones, black politics and current racism. Arkansas speakers include Guy Lancaster, Bill Pruden, Story Matkin-Rawn, Brian Mitchell, Cherisse Jones-Branch, Jeannie Whayne, Michael Pierce, and John Kirk. For more information or to register, find the “Elaine at 100: Academic Conference” page on Facebook.
Thursday, Sept. 26-30
“Black ’n da Blues: Stories and Songs from the Arkansas Delta”
Musicians from the Delta sing spirituals and rhythm and blues to tell the story of Phillips County over the last 100 years at five venues. Performances are at noon Sept. 26 at the UA Phillips Community College in Helena-West Helena, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, noon Sept. 28 at the MM Tate Auditorium in Marvell, 7 p.m. Sept. 28 at the former Elaine Elementary School, and 4 p.m. at Lyons College in Batesville.
Saturday, Sept. 28
San Francisco poet and author Tongo Eisen-Martin will read excerpts from his voice-over for the documentary “Elaine the Film,” to be released by Michael Wilson. 1 p.m., Elaine Legacy Center, 313 College Ave.
Tours to Elaine massacre sites. 3-5 p.m.
Placement of sign at Lee Street Community Center. Recognizing reconciliation between J. Chester Johnson, a descendant of Elaine massacre participant, and Sheila Walker, a descendant of Elaine Massacre defendants. 2 p.m., downtown Elaine.
Sunday, Sept. 29
Church service. St. John’s Episcopal Church, 10:30 a.m. 625 Pecan St., Helena-West Helena.
“Break Glass: A Conversation to End Hate.” Installation by V.L. Cox, 1-2 p.m. and 3 p.m., Delta Cultural Center, 141 Cherry St., Helena-West Helena.
Dedication of the Elaine Massacre Memorial. With remarks by Dr. Catherine Meeks of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing in Atlanta, U.S. District Judge Brian Miller and state Rep. Chris Richey (D-Helena-West Helena), 2 p.m., Court Square, 622 Walnut St., Helena-West Helena. Reception to follow at the Phillips County Courthouse.
“Embracing the Challenges of God’s Call for a New Future: The 100th Anniversary of the Elaine Massacre.” Talk by Pulaski Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, pastor of New Millennium Baptist Church, and honoring Phillips County activist Annie Zachary Pike. 2 p.m., cafeteria of the former Elaine Elementary School, 312 College Ave., Elaine.
Monday, Sept. 30
Jonathan Jackson, son of civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, will be in Elaine for the dedication of Richard Wright Park. Time TBA.