The Elaine Massacre
On this day in Labor History the year was 1919.
That was the day that began the Elaine Massacre.
The massacre took place in Arkansas, where more than 100 black farmers and sharecroppers were gunned down for daring to organize their labor.
The Year before, a black farmer by the name of Robert L. Hill had founded the Progressive Farmers and Household Union of America.
Union members pooled their money to purchase land.
They also hired a lawyer to sue planters who did not give black tenant cotton farmers their fair share of the profits.
The group grew in membership in the Arkansas delta region, including near the town of Elaine in Philips County.
But white landowners would not allow this challenge to their power.
Armed white militias came to a church where the union was holding a meeting.
The black attendees were also armed.
Gunfire broke out.
In response, white posses and federal troops unleashed a wave of terror across Philips County.
Hundreds of black residents were arrested.
At least 100 black Arkansans were killed.
Some estimates of those murdered is considerably higher.
Five white people also died.
122 black men and women were charged with murder.
Twelve were given the death sentence.
No white vigilante was ever charged.
The convicted African Americans appealed their cases.
One appeal for six of the defendants went all the way to the US Supreme Court, where it was overturned in a landmark ruling.
The year of 1919 was one of the deadliest years of violence against African Americans in U.S. history.
Civil Rights activist James Weldon Johnson called those bloody months the “Red Summer.”
Twenty-six race riots left thousands of African Americans homeless and hundreds dead from Chicago to Washington D.C. to Omaha.
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