January 12, 2020

The Elaine Race Massacre and the Elaine Race Memorial – Then and Now

Many of you are aware of the Elaine Race Massacre of 1919, and many of you aren’t. The Elaine Race Massacre of black sharecroppers and family members on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River Delta may be the most significant attack against African-Americans in our country’s history with more than a hundred (and possibly hundreds of) blacks perishing.

On September 29th, 2019, the Elaine Massacre Memorial was dedicated in Phillips County, Arkansas, site of the conflagration; no permanent memorial to the event had previously existed. A series of pieces related to the Memorial in the form of links and attachments are set forth right below the following short description of the Massacre and its important aftermath.

Highlights of the Massacre and Aftermath:

During the Red Summer of 1919 when racial conflict between black and white Americans flared throughout the country, the Elaine Race Massacre stands out as one of the most brutal and extensive racial conflagrations. From early Wednesday morning, October 1st, 1919 into the following weekend, many African-American sharecroppers and family members were murdered. Five whites also died, although two may have been killed by friendly fire.

While whites feared a black insurrection where blacks outnumbered whites by multiples, they also feared the local black sharecroppers’ desire to unionize for improving economic negotiating power; these two factors contributed to the whites’ devastating aggression against the blacks. The largest number of deaths to African-Americans were caused by white federal troops with machine guns, brought into Phillips County allegedly to stop the black revolt. No investigation ever found that local African-Americans planned or executed an insurrection.

At the end of the killing spree in Phillips County by local whites, by white vigilantes from neighboring communities and states, and by the federal military, whites then relied on the torturing of black witnesses to evince the right responses supportive of an untrue proposition that a broad-based black rebellion had existed, which would be the only theory heard in the local courts at that time. No whites were charged, while seventy-four sharecroppers were found guilty of crimes ranging from first-degree murder to “night riding”. All-white juries often deliberated for no more than two minutes in finding blacks guilty.

Out of the Massacre and associated local court proceedings emerged a case, Moore v. Dempsey, that made its way to the U. S. Supreme Court, which found in 1923, in an opinion written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, that federal courts could overturn local and state criminal court proceedings which were unfair. This judgment by the U. S. Supreme Court put teeth in the 14th Amendment (equal protection under the law) for the first time since its enactment in 1868.

A significant brick in the Civil Rights road had been put in place. For his legal strategy that led both to the U. S. Supreme Court decision and to freedom after five years for all seventy-four sharecroppers found guilty following the Massacre, the black Little Rock attorney, Scipio Africanus Jones, will someday be recognized for the American hero he is.


I would like to share the following pieces. The dedication of the Elaine Massacre Memorial was held on the afternoon of September 29th, 2019, one day in advance of the Massacre’s centennial. While many people locally and beyond participated, David P. Solomon and the Solomon family, long-time residents of Phillips County, Arkansas, led efforts that resulted in the creation of the Memorial.

1. Video of the Elaine Race Massacre Dedication, September 29, 2019

2. Pictures of the Elaine Massacre Memorial
Photos by David Gruol

3. NPR "Here and Now" Interview: Aired on September 12, 2019, Robin Young of "Here and Now" interviews Dr. Kyle Miller and me. Dr. Miller lost four ancestors in the Massacre, and my maternal grandfather participated in the conflagration.

4. Two Articles of Interest (combined in one document): "In a Small Arkansas Town, Echoes of a Century-Old Massacre," The New York Times, July 25 2019, and "Arkansas Group Planned Monument to Racial Unity; It Isn't Going as Planned," The Wall Street Journal, September 14, 2019.

5. Memento Poem Card: An original poem composed for the Memorial dedication.


In May, 2020, a new non-fiction book, DAMAGED HERITAGE: The Elaine Race Massacre and A Story of Reconciliation, will be published by Pegasus Books. A meaningful part of this book, which I wrote, consists of the journey, over the last six years, that Sheila L. Walker, who authored the Foreword, and I have shared to achieve racial reconciliation and authentic friendship in which our respective spouses and families have become an integral part. Sheila had family members victimized during the Massacre, and my grandfather participated in the conflagration.

For the book, the Massacre serves as a backdrop for my commentaries on race, racism, and reconciliation; in particular, the book discusses the reasons that racism repeats itself in this country from generation to generation, including the roles that both white damaged heritage and white filiopietism have played in the repetitive adherence of America to racism over several centuries to the present. It also offers approaches, including the lessons learned through racial reconciliation by Sheila and me, to end the vicious, dehumanizing (for both blacks and whites), and continuous racial subjugation. You may view the book cover below.

Damaged Heritage Book


Damaged Heritage by J. Chester Johnson: Anti-Racism Text at St. Luke in the Fields

J. Chester Johnson's "Night" Featured by Carnegie Hill Village

J. Chester Johnson Named To Board of Advisors For Poetry Outreach Center

Conversation Among Descendants of the Elaine Race Massacre 104 Years Later: Zoom Recording Available

J. Chester Johnson Discusses His Well-Known Poem, “St. Paul’s Chapel”, At Manhattan’s Church of the Heavenly Rest

J. Chester Johnson Interviewed by Tavis Smiley

Cornelius Eady's Interview of J. Chester Johnson for Poets House/WBAI "Open House" Program

NPR Article on Elaine and Tulsa Race Massacres

History News Network Publishes Article by J. Chester Johnson on Lunches with Father of Black Liberation Theology

Favorable Review of "Damaged Heritage" in Current Issue of American Book Review

Damaged Heritage Placed On Selective Goodreads’ List of Best Nonfiction Books

Damaged Heritage Motivates Nationwide Talks on Social Justice and Racial Equity

J. Chester Johnson Writes in the ARKANSAS TIMES About Another Arkansas Race Massacre

Video of J. Chester Johnson’s presentation at Johnson House Historic Site (Underground Railroad).

Book Review from Green Mountains Review of "Damaged Heritage"


April 2024
March 2024
October 2023
August 2023
April 2023
January 2023
December 2022
September 2022
April 2022
October 2021
September 2021
August 2021
March 2021
December 2020
October 2020
July 2020
June 2020
May 2020
January 2020
December 2019
October 2019
September 2019
July 2019
May 2019