They shot them down like rabbits . . .
September 30, 1919. The United States teetered on the edge of a racial civil war. During the previous three months, racial fighting had erupted in twenty-five cities. And deep in the Arkansas Delta, black sharecroppers were meeting in a humble wooden church, forming a union and making plans to sue their white landowners, who for years had cheated them out of their fair share of the cotton crop. A car pulled up outside the church . . .
What happened next has long been shrouded in controversy.
In this heartbreaking but ultimately triumphant story of courage and will, journalist Robert Whitaker carefully documents—and exposes—one of the worst racial massacres in American history. Over the course of several days, posses and federal troops gunned down more than one hundred men, women, and children.
But that is just the beginning of this astonishing story. White authorities also arrested more than three hundred black farmers, and in trials that lasted only a few hours, all-white juries sentenced twelve of the union leaders to die in the electric chair. One of the juries returned a death verdict after two minutes of deliberation.
All hope seemed lost, and then an extraordinary lawyer from Little Rock stepped forward: Scipio Africanus Jones. Jones, who’d been born a slave, joined forces with the NAACP to mount an appeal in which he argued that his clients’ constitutional rights to a fair trial had been violated. Never before had the U.S. Supreme Court set aside a criminal verdict in a state court because the proceedings had been unfair, so the state of Arkansas, confident of victory, had a carpenter build coffins for the men.
We all know the names of the many legendary heroes that emerged from the civil rights movement: Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King Jr. among them. Whitaker’s important book commemorates a legal struggle, Moore v. Dempsey, that paved the way for that later remaking of our country, and tells too of a man, Scipio Africanus Jones, whose name surely deserves to be known by all Americans.
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of eBook: On the Laps of Gods|
|Release Date: 06-10-2008|
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|Publisher: Crown Publishing Group|
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On the Laps of Gods
A Union in Hoop Spur
HOOP SPUR HAS LONG since disappeared from the maps of Phillips County, Arkansas, and even in 1919, when it could be found on such a map, it consisted of little more than a railroad switching station and a small store. But the cotton
elds surrounding Hoop Spur were speckled with cabins, each one home to a family of sharecroppers, and on September 30 of that year, shortly after sunset, the black farmers began walking along dirt paths and roads toward a small wooden church located about one-quarter mile north of the switching station. For most, the church was a mile or two away, or even farther, and as they expected their meeting to run late into the night, they brought along sweaters and light coats for the walk back home. Many had their children with them, and a few, like Vina Mason, were carrying babies.
By 7:00 p.m., the
rst of the farmers had arrived, and they lit three lamps inside the Baptist church. The wooden benches began
lling up rapidly. Sallie Giles and her two sons, Albert and Milligan, reached Hoop Spur around 8:00 p.m., and by then the "house was packed," she said. Paul Hall was there, and so too were "Preacher" Joe Knox and Frank Moore, along with their wives. At last, Jim Miller and his wife, Cleola, pulled up in a horse and a buggy. Miller was president of the Hoop Spur Lodge of the Progressive Farmers and Household Union, which for the past several months had been signing up sharecroppers throughout southern Phillips County.
The one person still missing was the lodge's secretary, Ed Ware. He was, as he later admitted, thinking of quitting. The previous Thursday, September 25, sha