The Delta Cultural Center, located in Helena-West Helena, will hold the third of a series of discussions on the Elaine Massacre of 1919 Sunday, July 15, 2018. The Elaine Colloquium Series III is scheduled from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. at Beth El Heritage Hall, 406 Perry Street in historic downtown Helena, AR. The public is invited. Admission is free. The DCC will host a reception immediately following the presentation. Dr. Brian Mitchell, professor of history at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, will lead the conversation.  


Dr. Mitchell’s perspective on that tragic event offers another viewpoint to explain why the Elaine Massacre happened in the first place. According to him, it stemmed from the culmination of Jim Crow laws, racism, the end of World War 1 and landowners’ fear of black sharecroppers unionizing to obtain fair wages.  


Black servicemen who had fought in the war returned home to Phillips County, determined to exercise their rights, demand greater freedoms and gain living wages beyond that received for the backbreaking work of sharecropping. Local planters viewed the efforts by these black men to organize as a direct challenge to the system of Jim Crow servitude that ruled the day.  


Though he points to these as the primary forces that were at work, there were other driving factors as well, which Dr. Mitchell will also offer as a part of what is expected to be another riveting discussion in this series. Like other scholars on the subject, Dr. Mitchell believes these dynamics merged to create the perfect storm for the deadly Elaine Massacre.   


The local press at the time estimated the official death toll among blacks at 26.  However, a 2015 investigation by the Equal Justice Initiative puts the number of African American victims at 237. Dr. Mitchell cites reports that place the number of lost black lives at more than 500. Five whites were also killed during this tragedy. In addition to this, 285 black men were arrested, along with the white son of the attorney for the union. The Elaine Massacre has been  described  as possibly the bloodiest racial conflict in the history of the United States.


To this day, the complete story surrounding the events known as the Elaine Massacre is still unclear. Yet many, both black and white, would rather keep the past in the past. Then, there are still those who know nothing of it.  But there are also those who view this incident as a page out of a chapter of the Jim Crow south.  It is just as much a collective history for all Americans – a history, albeit tragic-- that was a part of the Arkansas Delta, and of the nation.


And they are also among those who welcome open discussions like these. They argue that these conversations are an opportunity to begin the process of healing communities and bring closure to a terrible chapter in Phillips County’s history.  


Mitchell’s scholarly work on the subject includes his contribution to the book Elaine Massacre and Arkansas, A Century of Atrocity and Resistance, 1819 – 1919.  The chapter of the book authored by Dr. Mitchell is entitled “When the Depths Don’t Give Up Their Dead: A Discussion on New Primary Sources and How They are Reshaping Debate on the Elaine Race Massacre.” He has also presented numerous lectures on the topic, including “The Elaine Massacre: The Price of Dissent,” during the MLK50 Delta Commission of Phillips County’s Civil Rights and Social Justice Awards Ceremony earlier this year.  


For more information contact Dr. Kyle Miller, DCC director, 870.338.4350, or kyle.miller@arkansas.gov. Visit the DCC at www.deltaculturalcenter.com, or at Facebook.com/Delta Cultural Center.


The Delta Cultural Center shares the vision of all eight divisions within the Department of Arkansas Heritage—to preserve and promote Arkansas Heritage as a source of pride and satisfaction.  The other divisions of the department are the Historic Arkansas Museum, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, the Old State House Museum, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, the Arkansas Arts Council, the Natural Heritage Commission and the Arkansas State Archives.