ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Stockley takes on this silence and . . . shows too that it is part of a larger silence in which the fear and terror
that were the daily staples of the African American experience have been summed up all too easily
in the term “Jim Crow” in a failure to fully confront the anguish of the period.
Grif Stockley. Blood in Their Eyes: The Elaine Race Massacres of 1919. University of Arkansas Press, 2004
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The Story of
The Elaine, Arkansas Massacre of 1919
The tragedy of the Elaine massacres is not only that they occurred but that we have ignored them.In late September 1919, black sharecroppers met to protest unfair settlements for their cotton crops from white plantation owners. Local law enforcement broke up the union’s meeting, and the next day a thousand white men from the Deltaand troops of the U.S. Army itselfconverged on Phillips County, Arkansas, to “put down” the black sharecroppers’ “insurrection.”
In riveting, novelistic prose, writer and Delta native Grif Stockley considers the evidence and tells the full story of this incident for the first time, concluding that black people were murdered in Elaine by white mobs and federal soldiers. Five white men died as a result of the conflict; contemporary estimates of African American deaths ranged from 20 to an even more horrifying 856. White officials jailed hundreds of black workers, torturing some of them. Twelve black men were charged with first-degree murder. Their legal battles lasted six years, but national and local silence has persisted much longer.
Stockley takes on this silence and shows that it resulted from sustained official efforts to convince the public that only blacks who had resisted lawful authority were killed. He shows too that it is part of a larger silence in which the fear and terror that were the daily staples of the African American experience have been summed up all too easily in the term “Jim Crow” in a failure to fully confront the anguish of the period.
Blood in Their Eyes is a relentless examination of one of the bloodiest American racial repressions of the 20th century. In retelling the story of the Elaine massacres of 1919 with moral fervor and canny reinterpretation of sources, Grif Stockley has written a study of collective barbarism in real time that deepens our knowledge of the psychodynamics of white supremacy.David Levering Lewis Two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author of W. E. B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 18681919 (1994) and W. E. B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 19191963 (2001)
“Meticulously researched and compellingly argued, Blood in Their Eyes is the definitive history of the Elaine, Arkansas, massacre . . . [which] was the bloodiest race war of the Red Summer of 1919. Compounding the violence by rampaging white mobs and army troops was the torture of black survivors. Grif Stockley, a lawyer, has told the whole story, and in doing so, he has deeply enriched our understanding not only of America’s violently racist past, but also of the challenges which that history poses for the future.”William M. Tuttle Jr. author of Daddy’s Gone to War: The Second World War in the Lives of America’s Children (1993) and Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919 (2nd ed., 1996).
Grif Stockley is a lawyer, the author of five murder mysteries (Expert Testimony, Probable Cause, Religious Conviction, Illegal Motion, and Blind Judgment, all from Simon & Schuster), and a longtime scholar of the Elaine race riots. His new novel, Salted with Fire, (June 2001); also Daisy Bates: Civil Rights Crusader from Arkansas (2005)
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Blood in Their EyesBy Grif Stockley
Reviewed by: John P. Gill
I miss Gideon Page, the hero of Grif Stockley’s previous novels. Gideon Page is my kind of lawyer standing alone against the odds, against the establishment and winning for the little guy. That is what mainstream Arkansas lawyers do today. So Blood in Their Eyes is required reading for every Arkansas lawyer, because this time Grif Stockley reviews the work of a real Gideon Page, a black lawyer named Scipio Jones who read law to become licensed and became one of Arkansas’ outstanding lawyers. Jones is credited with one of the most important cases in American history, Moore v. Dempsey 261 U.S. 86(1923), and standing alone many times, saved the lives of 12 innocent, albeit convicted, black sharecroppers from Elaine, Arkansas.
The Elaine race riot, as history until now has called it, is an awful blemish on Arkansas history. It is such a blemish that most historians have treated it lightly or shied away from it. But Grif Stockley, an outstanding Arkansas lawyer in his own right, is not known for shying away from much of anything, and he tackles the issue head on in his first writing on Arkansas history. In typical lawyer fashion Stockley analyzes the facts and writes his brief in Blood in Their Eyes.
The death toll of white citizens is easily verified from the court and newspaper records. Five men were killed. According to the trial transcripts, affidavits, and research by Stockley, some of the white men were apparently killed by other white men in their frenzy to shoot black citizens of Phillips County.
The black death toll has never been verified, and even Stockley’s laborious analysis of the facts fails to document the number. It is somewhere between 20 and 856; the total will likely never be known. But Stockley, exhibiting his experience as a lawyer, analyzes the facts and identifies the events as a massacre, not a riot, because even 20 deaths fit that description in the events Stockley brings to light, namely, shooting unarmed blacks with their hands in the air, and burying many in unmarked graves. Without saying so, Stockley’s description of the events matches those recently reported in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Blood in Their Eyes reports the events which started on the night of September 30, 1919 at the Hopp Spur Church in Phillips County, near Elaine, Arkansas, where a group of black sharecroppers had gathered for a meeting of the Progressive Farmers and Household Union. Farming conditions in the Arkansas Delta in 1919 are not what they are today, and the sharecroppers, with grievances over cotton prices paid by their white landlords, attended the meeting. Why armed guards were posted outside the church is unclear.
An automobile carrying a Deputy Sheriff, a Railroad Detective for the Missouri Pacific, and a Trustee from the Phillips County Jail stopped in front of the church about 11:00 p.m. and the shooting started. Who shot first and why is unclear, but Stockley gives a trial lawyers’ analysis of the questions and answers. When the shooting stopped, a white peace officer was dead. By morning hundreds, perhaps thousands, of armed men from both sides of the Mississippi River converged on Elaine, and a group of armed blacks exchanged gunfire. The following day battle-hardened veterans from the battle of the Marne stationed at Camp Pike arrived, with Governor Charles Borough in the lead.
Blood in Their Eyes sorts out many of the historical reports of this event, and Stockley disagrees with many of them unsupported by the evidence. But, his astonishing conclusion that the Camp Pike veterans themselves participated in the slaughter of innocent American citizens is a new chapter in this tragic event.
Twelve sharecroppers were tried for murder of five whites (no whites were arrested) and Stockley laboriously reviewed trial transcripts, Supreme Court briefs, correspondence, and court opinions to find historical facts and support his writing. His legal analysis is a new and very much needed addition to the reports of other historians. In several instances he demonstrates the power of circumstantial evidence, and throughout his book, Stockley demonstrates his outstanding skills as a lawyer in this analysis of the records.
Perhaps if historians had started where Stockley excels, much of the written history of this event would be different. No lawyer, nor anyone else who loves freedom in a democratic society, can read these events without getting sick to their stomach. American Citizens were tried for murder in an Arkansas courtroom less than 30 days after their arrest, defended predominately by attorneys who called no witnesses, failed to strike any juror for bias, and in general make no closing arguments.
The jury was out for eight minutes on the first trial. As many as three separate trials are held by the same judge in a single day and all defendant’s were found guilty and sentenced to death. One of the Defendant’s attorneys later urged the Governor to carry out the death sentences.
A must read portion of the book is Stockley’s cross examination-like juxtaposition of Prosecutor John Miller’s statements in 1919 and his later statements as a retired U.S. District Judge.
The Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed all of the convictions, and the fictional Gideon Page never had the challenges that the real life Scipio Jones experienced. Jones was not hired until late November, after all 12 have been convicted. He was retained by black Little Rock citizens to work with a white attorney George W. Murphy, employed by the NAACP, and later as co counsel with Edgar L. McHaney, another white attorney.
Although he was prohibited from arguing the case, it was through Jones’ efforts, that Moore v. Dempsey, for the first time, permitted collateral attack, thru habeas corpus, on a state appellate court decision. All 12 Defendants were finally freed five years after their conviction, through a maze of motions, appeals, retrials, and executive clemency that only a skilled lawyer could manage.
The author frequently exhibits skill as an historical novelist; as an example he inserts that the Governor’s wife “could have easily persuaded” the Governor to see Birth of a Nation, which played in Little Rock at the time. Perhaps an historical novel will be the next expression of his extraordinary talent. In the meantime, Stockley’s in depth research and compelling arguments make Blood in Their Eyes worthwhile reading for every lawyer who aspires to try lawsuits.
The Arkansas Lawyer Vol.37 No.1/Winter 2002
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By Russell Simmons
Russell Simmons knows firsthand that wealth is rooted in much more than the stock market. True wealth has more to do with what’s in your heart than what’s in your wallet. Using this knowledge, Simmons became one of America’s shrewdest entrepreneurs, achieving a level of success that most investors only dream about. No matter how much material gain he accumulated, he never stopped lending a hand to those less fortunate. In Super Rich, Simmons uses his rare blend of spiritual savvy and street-smart wisdom to offer a new definition of wealth-and share timeless principles for developing an unshakable sense of self that can weather any financial storm. As Simmons says, “Happy can make you money, but money can’t make you happy.”
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By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarcerationbut her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.Publishers Weekly
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By Kenneth W. Mack
Representing the Race tells the story of an enduring paradox of American race relations, through the prism of a collective biography of African American lawyers who worked in the era of segregation. . . . Mack reorients what we thought we knew about famous figures such as Thurgood Marshall, who rose to prominence by convincing local blacks and prominent whites that he wasas nearly as possibleone of them. But he also introduces a little-known cast of characters to the American racial narrative. These include Loren Miller, the biracial Los Angeles lawyer who, after learning in college that he was black, became a Marxist critic of his fellow black attorneys and ultimately a leading civil rights advocate; and Pauli Murray, a black woman who seemed neither black nor white, neither man nor woman, who helped invent sex discrimination as a category of law. The stories of these lawyers pose the unsettling question: what, ultimately, does it mean to represent a minority group in the give-and-take of American law and politics? /
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 5 January 2012