September 30th, 1919

Whites Massacre 100 Black People in Elaine, Arkansas

On the night of September 30, 1919, approximately one hundred black farmers attended a meeting of the Progressive Farmers and Household Union of America at a church in Phillips County, Arkansas. Many of the farmers were sharecroppers on white-owned plantations in the area and the meeting was held to discuss ways they could organize to demand fairer payments for their crops. Black labor unions such as the Progressive Farmers were deeply resented among white landowners throughout the country because unions threatened to weaken the whites’ aristocratic power. The union also made efforts to subvert racial divisions in labor relations and had hired a white attorney to negotiate with land owners for better cotton prices.

Knowing that black union organizing often attracted opposition, armed guards kept watch around the church where the Phillips County meeting took place. When a group of whites from the Missouri-Pacific Railroad attempted to intrude upon the meeting to gather intelligence, they were held back by the guards, and at least two whites were killed in the ensuing gunfight. Enraged, whites quickly formed mobs and descended on the nearby black town of Elaine, Arkansas, destroying homes and businesses and attacking anyone in their path. Between 100 and 200 blacks were killed in the massacre. A responding federal troop regiment claimed only two black people were killed but many reports challenged the white soldiers’ credibility and accused them of participating in the massacre.

In the end, sixty-seven blacks were arrested and charged with inciting violence, while dozens more faced other charges. Twelve black union members convicted of riot-related charges were sentenced to die but the NAACP represented the men on appeal and successfully got their death sentences overturned, six by the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1921 and the others by the United States Supreme Court in 1925.