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Todd Lewis 
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Re: “History of lynching: Arkansas lands atop another bad list

Yet another edit: "he was almost lynching" should read "he was almost lynched".

2 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by Todd Lewis on 05/30/2015 at 12:14 PM

Re: “History of lynching: Arkansas lands atop another bad list

Edit of my previous comment:

"Walter White, and African American with very fair skin and blued eyes," should read "Walter White, an African American with very fair skin and blued eyes,".

White also had blond hair, which allowed him to "pass" as white during his investigations. White claimed that he was almost lynching while during his investigation in Phillips County.

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Posted by Todd Lewis on 05/30/2015 at 12:13 PM

Re: “History of lynching: Arkansas lands atop another bad list

I am sorry but the statistic of over 200 deaths of African Americans during the Elaine affair in Phillips County is highly questionable. I make this statement as a historian (Ph.D.) who did extensive research on lynchings and the Elaine "riot" during work on his dissertation, "Race Relations in Arkansas, 1910-1929" (University of Arkansas, 1995, advisor: Willard B. Gatewood). I am also author of “Mob Justice in the ‘American Congo’: ‘Judge Lynch’ in Arkansas during the Decade after World War I.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 52 (Summer 1993): 156–184, an article cited by the Arkansas Encyclopedia's article on "Lynching."

The truth of the statistic is this: newspapers such as the Arkansas Gazette reported that as few as 25 and as many as 50 African Americans were killed during the violence around Elaine. However, there were also a handful of whites--fewer than 10--that were killed, apparently by armed African Americans. One explanation for this is that African-American veterans of the First World War who had returned home refused to remain passive as a local posse of whites attacked black homes and communities. So the first stage of the "riot" was in fact an armed conflict between local law officials and local armed African Americans. The resulting number of casualties are unknown.

But the armed resistance by a large group of African Americans was almost unheard of; as news of this resistance spread, armed posses of whites from surrounding counties both in and outside of Arkansas arrived on the seen, and at this point any armed resistance by African Americans proved futile, and undoubtedly large numbers of lynchings occurred. At this point, the governor dispatched the Arkansas Guard. Whether it sought to reestablish order (see Jeannie Whayne's work) or joined in the carnage against African Americans (see Grif Stockley's work) remains in dispute.

Now as for actual statistics on the death of Africans Americans, as I indicated above, so-called "white" newspapers reported between 25 and 50 deaths. IIRC, Memphis-based African-American civil rights activist Ida B. Wells, who did her own investigation of the "riot" from which she published a long pamphlet, claimed 87 African Americans died.

The NAACP also made an investigation, as Walter White, and African American with very fair skin and blued eyes, went to Phillips County shortly after the violence ended. As best as I can tell the figure of 200+ comes from the NAACP. However, this figure is problematic because it came in later reports. Earlier reports of the violence indicated that 100 African Americans had been killed. Why this figure jumped to 200 is unknown to me. Please note that this information is based on NAACP documents on microfilm in Mullins Library at the University of Arkansas.

In the end, regardless of whether the number of African Americans killed was 25 or 200 (there was at least one near contemporary account that claimed 800 African Americans had been killed), the "riot" was a savage affair which revealed race relations in Arkansas at its ugliest. However, it was also a unique event. Lynchings were common, but in most cases the number of victims during each event were between about fewer than four. On occasions there were more victims, and on a handful of occasions (notably the St. Charles County "lynching bee" in 1904, there were at least 10 but fewer than 20 victims.

Todd E. Lewis, Ph.D.
Lead Processing Archivist
Special Collections Department
University of Arkansas Libraries

4 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by Todd Lewis on 05/30/2015 at 12:07 PM


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