Last updated: 6 months ago
The conflict actually began Sept. 30, 1919, with a meeting of about 100 African-American sharecroppers at a church in Hoop Spur, 3 miles north of Elaine. The meeting was arranged by the Progressive Farmers and Household Union of America and was an attempt to get black farmers better prices for their cotton from while plantation owners.
Leaders of the union had placed guards around the church in case of trouble, and while accounts vary on what actually happened or who fired first, in the end a white railroad security officer, W. A. Adkins, was killed and a white sheriff’s deputy, Charles Pratt, was injured.
The next day an estimated 500 to 1,000 whites from Phillips County and beyond descended on Elaine to help put down what was being described as an insurrection by the blacks, who outnumbered whites 10 to one in the area. By Oct. 2, 500 soldiers from Camp Pike had arrived and began placing hundreds of blacks in stockades until they could be questioned.
The reports of what happened conflict greatly, with the commander of the troops at Elaine saying two blacks were killed, while a report from an NAACP field secretary sent to investigate said more than 100 blacks were killed in the violence.
Two hundred and eighty-five African-Americans were jailed in Helena, and 122 were charged with crimes by a grand jury. Twelve had murder charges brought to trial, were convicted and sentenced to death, though thanks to the work of the NAACP and a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court, all were eventually released.