Blood in Their Eyes

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The Elaine Race Massacres of 1919
Grif Stockley
978-1-55728-772-4 (paper)
July 2004


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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 Delta—and troops of the U.S. Army itself—converged 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.

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.

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, 1868–1919 and W. E. B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919–1963

“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 and Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919

Winner of the 2002 Booker Worthen Literary Prize

American Association of State and Local History Award 2003

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