Academic journal article South Carolina Historical Magazine

Blood in Their Eyes: The Elaine Race Massacres of 1919

Academic journal article South Carolina Historical Magazine

Blood in Their Eyes: The Elaine Race Massacres of 1919

Article excerpt

Blood in Their Eyes: The Elaine Race Massacres of 1919. By Grif Stockley. (2001; reprint, Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2004. Pp. vii, 264; $29.95, cloth; $19.95, paper.)

Blood in Their Eyes is a gut-wrenching story about racism in the Arkansas black belt; it is a revealing tribute to an unassuming hero; it is an expose of corruption on the state and local level; but foremost it is a painstakingly researched, highly readable analysis of a massacre that history did not get right. Grif Stockley, lawyer and noted novelist, was clearly on a mission to uncover the truth about what has misleadingly been remembered as the Elaine race riots of 1919. "Riot" connotes mutual participation; the subject of this book, according to Stockley, was a slaughter. Through relentless, exhaustive investigations of court records, newspaper accounts, and personal interviews, Stockley shines a spotlight on the darkest days of the twentieth century in Arkansas.

Five decades after the Civil War, Stockley reveals, most blacks in Arkansas, especially in the delta region of the state, were still treated as little more than slaves. Not only could blacks neither vote nor serve in juries, it was the heyday for the Ku Klux Klan, which was viewed by the majority of whites in that region as a patriotic institution. This is the setting where the crux of the story takes place-and it is where Stockley was born and raised.

Through the eyes of Elaine attorney Scipio Jones, Stockley articulates the accounts of one of America's bloodiest race wars. Stockley presents convincing evidence that other historians have missed, implicating federal officers in the slaughter of innocent blacks. While Stockley clearly separates the facts from his inferences, he makes a solid case for each of his interpretations of the facts. For example, previous estimates describing the number of blacks killed range from twenty to over 800; Stockley defends his conclusion that the numbers were probably closer to 846 based on the credibility of the sources. The reader will probably agree that the specific numbers are much less significant than the utterly inhuman treatment of blacks surrounding the entire fiasco.

At 11:30 p.m. on September 30, Elaine blacks who were members of the Progressive Farmers and Household Union were meeting to discuss the abuses of the local sharecropper system, in which corrupt white landlords cheated black farmers out of their hard-earned money. Local Phillips County law enforcement broke up the meeting. There was gunfire. Who shot first, and who hit whom is debatable, but as before, those facts are not what is significant. What Blood in Their Eyes unveils was a series of sickening incidents of racism. …

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