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Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Mon Aug 26, 2019, 03:40 PM

2. In a Small Arkansas Town, Echoes of a Century-Old Massacre

July 29, 2019

In this June 15, 2019, photo, a man works 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.

ELAINE, Ark. (AP) — J. Chester Johnson never heard about the mass killing of black people in Elaine, a couple hours away from where he grew up in Arkansas. Nobody talked about it, teachers didn’t mention it in history classes, and only the elderly remembered the bloodshed of 1919.
He was an adult when he found out about it. By then, his grandfather, Alonzo “Lonnie” Birch, was dead — perhaps taking a secret to his grave.
Johnson believes Birch took part in the Elaine massacre. And now he’s bent on telling the story of one of the largest racial mass killings in U.S. history, an infamous chapter in the “Red Summer” riots that spread in cities and towns across the nation.

“I feel an obligation,” said Johnson, who is white. “It’s hard to grow up in a severely segregated environment and for it not to affect you. If you don’t face it and deal with it in various ways, it becomes undiscovered.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Hundreds of African Americans died at the hands of white mob violence during “Red Summer” but little is widely known about this spate of violence a century later. As part of its coverage of the 100th anniversary of Red Summer, AP will take a multiplatform look at the attacks and the communities where they occurred. https://www.apnews.com/RedSummer
Johnson, who now lives in New York City, is co-chair of a committee overseeing construction of a memorial honoring those killed in 1919. He and others are hoping the structure, being built in a park across from the Phillips County Courthouse about a half-hour drive from Elaine, will bring attention to the massacre. Others say plans for a monument are a folly — starting with its location — and want commemoration efforts to focus instead on reparations to account for what they say was theft of black-owned land in the wake of the killings.

“It was literally a war on this area. People wanted the property that was almost all black-owned,” said Mary Olson, who is white. She is president of the Elaine Legacy Center, a red-brick community center that works to preserve the area’s civil rights history. It bears the sign, “Motherland of Civil Rights.”

The violence unfolded on the evening of Sept. 30, 1919, as black sharecroppers had gathered at a small church in Hoop Spur, an unincorporated area about 2˝ miles north of Elaine. The sharecroppers, wanting to be paid better and treated more fairly, were meeting with union organizers when a deputy sheriff and a railroad security officer — both white — arrived.

Fighting and gunfire erupted, though it’s still not clear who shot first. The security officer was killed and the deputy wounded.
White men frustrated that the sharecroppers were organizing went on a rampage. Over several days, mobs from the surrounding area and neighboring states killed men, women and children.


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