A new report from the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland details the failure of white newspapers to tell the story of the 1919 Elaine massacre of Black people organizing to get a fair price for their cotton, coverage that fueled events.


The story has been more accurately told in recent years (here’s one of our accounts), in part helped by 100th-anniversary remembrances. From the new report:

Historians say the massacre claimed five white lives and more than 200 Black lives, though the true number of Black deaths is unknown and some estimates put it much higher.

But that’s not what the readers of white newspapers, including the Arkansas Democrat, the Arkansas Gazette and the Helena World, would have read in the days during and after the massacre.

White newspapers filled their front pages with sensational headlines about a Black uprising, ignoring the economic inequality at the core of the conflict.

As the U.S. has reckoned with its racist past, the 1919 Elaine Massacre — one of the deadliest acts of violence against Black people in American history — has drawn new attention, especially in the years surrounding its 100th anniversary. That year, hundreds of Black people were killed in at least 25 cities across the country, a violent siege today called “Red Summer.”

The cover-up orchestrated by Elaine’s wealthy white landowners and the government, aided by the white-centric reporting of white-owned newspapers, led to a scarcity of information about the massacre.

More than 100 years later, Black descendants say the massacre still affects their lives and contributes to the area’s economic struggles.