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On the Laps of Gods: The Red Summer of 1919 and the Struggle for Justice That Remade a Nation

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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 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.


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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 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.

30 review for On the Laps of Gods: The Red Summer of 1919 and the Struggle for Justice That Remade a Nation

  1. 4 out of 5

    Irene

    I did not know this bit of US history. Whitaker walks the reader through a horrific history of lynchings and legal injustices perpetrated against blacks in the 6 to 7 decades after the Civil War. I don’t think it is possible to come away from this book without being ashamed and appalled, even if one is already familiar with the violence and injustice. Apparently, the Supreme Court has always been more political than just. I want to learn more about Scipio Jones, the African American attorney who I did not know this bit of US history. Whitaker walks the reader through a horrific history of lynchings and legal injustices perpetrated against blacks in the 6 to 7 decades after the Civil War. I don’t think it is possible to come away from this book without being ashamed and appalled, even if one is already familiar with the violence and injustice. Apparently, the Supreme Court has always been more political than just. I want to learn more about Scipio Jones, the African American attorney who brought justice for the sharecroppers. But, I left the book sad having read in the epilogue how many of the civil rights which were gained from 1919 to the 1960s have been eroded in the past 30 years.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Paul Brandel

    I'm the 4th person on this site to review this masterful history book. First let me state this is one of the very best history books I've ever read! Enjoyed reading about the courageous and tireless lawyer with the unique name of Scipio Africanus Jones. It starts with the race riots in rural Arkansas.It ends with some redemption for some black sharecroppers thats to the heroic efforts of this forementioned attorney. I'm the 4th person on this site to review this masterful history book. First let me state this is one of the very best history books I've ever read! Enjoyed reading about the courageous and tireless lawyer with the unique name of Scipio Africanus Jones. It starts with the race riots in rural Arkansas.It ends with some redemption for some black sharecroppers thats to the heroic efforts of this forementioned attorney.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Isblue

    First this truly needs to be a movie. Not an exploitive or sensational one, not an inspiring movie, but a movie that can bring this story to those who've never heard of Helena, Arkansas or Scipio Africanus Jones or how the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution was used by the federal government to turn a blind eye to the horrors that were happening in the U.S. The author does an excellent job of weaving in historical information, explaining the background and the results of Supreme Court ru First this truly needs to be a movie. Not an exploitive or sensational one, not an inspiring movie, but a movie that can bring this story to those who've never heard of Helena, Arkansas or Scipio Africanus Jones or how the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution was used by the federal government to turn a blind eye to the horrors that were happening in the U.S. The author does an excellent job of weaving in historical information, explaining the background and the results of Supreme Court rulings such as the Franks decision, describing the peonage system and how blacks were squeezed out of their rights as citizens. He stresses again and again how important it was that blacks were excluded from serving on juries. In the case covered in this book, well... I can't begin to describe it. Whitaker does a fantastic job of making it flow. He does such a good job explaining the mindset of society at that point in history and in that place. There have been times when I've needed to put the book down and walk away. Moments when I was outraged, horrified, moments when I wanted some fannish brain bleach because I could have done without explicit descriptions of just how inhumane human beings can be when they form into a mob. There are also people whose bravery and humanity, whose basic decency needs to be recognized. I recommend this book. It's a hard read. It's worth it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Randall Wallace

    As one white man from Mississippi explained it in 1919, “When there is a row, we feel like killing a nigger whether he has done anything or not.” A Mississippi Sheriff further explained the cracker logic: “We have three cases of homicide. If a nigger kills a white man, that’s murder. If a white man kills a nigger, that’s justifiable homicide. And if a nigger kills another nigger, that’s just one less nigger.” Around this time a number of rural towns in the South drove blacks from their communiti As one white man from Mississippi explained it in 1919, “When there is a row, we feel like killing a nigger whether he has done anything or not.” A Mississippi Sheriff further explained the cracker logic: “We have three cases of homicide. If a nigger kills a white man, that’s murder. If a white man kills a nigger, that’s justifiable homicide. And if a nigger kills another nigger, that’s just one less nigger.” Around this time a number of rural towns in the South drove blacks from their communities in ethnic cleansing. The North was not immune; none other than the President of Harvard wrote, that in a democracy, “civilized white men” don’t want to hang around with “barbarous black men.” With that kind of attack from the “best” of New England education at the time, where was a black man safe from Racism 101? Congressional investigators in 1917 St. Louis, found that within one all-white mob, one man had “grabbed a two-year-old running from a burning building and hurled the toddler back in the flames.” It was not uncommon after lynchings for participants and spectators to walk away grumbling that it should have taken longer, they used too much gasoline, they couldn’t hear the screams enough – you know, the usual stuff you’d expect with depressed sadists back then. One black man was actually lynched because he was considered “bumptious”. It took Lation Scott nearly four hours to die in Tennessee – red-hot pokers in his eyes and down his throat and a standard clothes iron used to burn off Lation’s genitals. In Georgia in 1918, a wife protests her husband’s innocence to the crowd. In response, she is roasted in flames, her belly cut open and the baby, after two cries and a baptism by fire, is crushed under a white man’s heel. Today’s whites know well that if they never read any of this stuff, they easily can brush off all Reparations talk. Imagine you are a black private in 1919, proud to return home to Georgia in uniform, someone says strip and walk home in your underwear - you refuse and are found dead two days later (see William Little). Another black veteran in Arkansas was told to get off the sidewalk – for failing to do so, he was chained to a tree and shot “forty or fifty times”. There were enough burnings for the Nation magazine to remark that Southern violence surpassed the Spanish Inquisition and the worst of Rome. In Louisiana, Lucias McCarty had the pleasure of being strapped to a car and dragged fast through the streets to a “delighted” crowd of 5,000. Moving on to the Elaine Massacre, Robert discusses sharecropping and its huge disadvantages for blacks (whites tying your future labor to their land “legally” through false accounting). The Civil War “freed” the slaves and yet in 1919, black workers lived in the same old slave quarters but now under “economic slavery” – Southern whites didn’t have to own blacks anymore because in one or two harvests of shady accounting, sharecroppers just might have to stay put. In 1919, lynch mobs knew that blacks had no protection from mob violence in the Constitution as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court in the land of the “free”. After the Massacre begins, a black suspected “ringleader” is captured but upon questioning is considered insolent. Doused in kerosene by an impatient white, the black man frees himself as a descending match turns him into a human torch – now running, his body is riddled with bullets by soldiers. Reports shows that the gentleman in question had to be doused by fire hose. This is also the same massacre where “federal troops turned their machine guns on farmers hiding in the woods.” Few sharecroppers didn’t own a firearm, so it was easy for soldiers to pretend they were threatened. After a hundred blacks were murdered by whites, the courts finally sprang into action and three hundred black men, a handful of black women, and not a single white were sent to Helena for criminal prosecution. Whites intentionally didn’t pick-up the dead bodies for a few days around Hoops Spur to send a message to surviving blacks; it was said, “the stench of dead bodies could be smelled for two miles.” The violence had started because local black farmers wanted a fair price for their hard work and joined a union and that was too much for the whites in the community. Now the local black union was “crushed”, one hundred blacks were dead and three hundred union members were now in jail for merely asking for a fair price for their crop. The lynch mob knew if it lynched the jailed blacks, cotton harvest wouldn’t happen, and their cotton futures would be in doubt. The jailed blacks had broken no written law and here they were in mud-caked clothes from hiding in the canebrakes to stay alive unable to get a simple change of clothes. Many were tortured for confessions and the sounds of screaming came freely from jailers use of a “a seven-pound leather strap” or “a rubber strap that had lead or copper in it that cut me. Every lick he would hit me would cut the blood out.” After the bloody whippings came the mock drownings with formaldehyde soaked rags in the nose, followed by the main course – you get shoved in an electric chair and whites crank the current until the pain is unbearable. If you made it through one whipping, they weren’t done. Quite a few blacks made it through two or three whippings before agreeing to give false testimony. Many gave in because white torturers whipped you in the same spot to reopen those old wounds and make it more brutal. Whites could prove no intention of murder by blacks. Meanwhile, the jailed were “spurned” by other blacks and later returned to homes looted and destroyed in the most depressing ways. There went your livestock, your belongs and don’t forget they even shot up your families mirror, so you can’t even see what they did to you. The tenor of the times was reflected by a southern man in a General Store who said, “Any time a nigger hits a white man, he’s gonna get handled or else all the niggers will get out of hand.” By 1920, things weren’t much better – a mob of over 1,000 in Georgia turned out to watch a black man castrated and set on fire. Not to be outdone, in Paris Texas, 3,000 showed up to watch two black sharecroppers set on fire with the lowlight being the mob leaders parading through the town with “barbecued niggers” tied to the back of a car. Still not done proving they were genuine Southerners, twenty of the men gang raped the three sisters of the victims. At the time, the nation’s all white legislators couldn’t decide if lynching should be a federal crime. J. Edgar Hoover early in his career hired blacks to infiltrate black organizations because future crossdresser Edgar had convinced himself w/o evidence that any black person yearning to be free simply HAD to be a communist. The Constitution was also a pro-slavery document because it authorized slavery in the southern states and made the “federal government the guardian of the slave owner’s property rights. The trials after the Massacre lead to Moore v. Dempsey which “remade the nation” by showing that the Supreme Court’s “position of extreme comity with regards to state courts” had been abandoned. After the Moore case, unfair state trials could be overturned. Moore meant Americans could theoretically expect a fair trial after only 200 years of giving the notion lip service. Echoes of Elaine still persisted in Brown v. Mississippi (1936) when the Court finally rendered confessions under torture void. Sharecropping would die-off soon after that, largely because of the rise of mechanical cotton pickers. The book ends with the punchline: while we think we are advancing morally as a society after Moore, in Guantanamo, large numbers of falsely held prisoners might disagree. Great book, the best of 10 books I’ve reviewed on the Red Summer of 2019, on the rarely mentioned 2019 Centennial of the Elaine Massacre.

  5. 4 out of 5

    George

    COMPELLING, YET FORGOTTEN, HISTORY. “Now their was a riot down here among the wrases and it was a Good many of Negros down their killed and the white Peoples called for the troops from Little Rock and they went down their and killed Negros like they wont nothen But dogs and did not make no arest on the whites whatever while they arested and unarmed a lots of Negroes and left the white with their armes and the Negro with nothen But their Hands and face to stand all the punishment that the white wi COMPELLING, YET FORGOTTEN, HISTORY. “Now their was a riot down here among the wrases and it was a Good many of Negros down their killed and the white Peoples called for the troops from Little Rock and they went down their and killed Negros like they wont nothen But dogs and did not make no arest on the whites whatever while they arested and unarmed a lots of Negroes and left the white with their armes and the Negro with nothen But their Hands and face to stand all the punishment that the white wished to Give them.” —ANONYMOUS LETTER FROM A WORLD WAR I VETERAN TO EMMETT J. SCOTT, (Kindle Location 64) The red summer of 1919 was a very violent time in the history of this country; perhaps nowhere more so than in the deep south. In his book, On the Laps of Gods: The Elaine Massacre, Scipio Africanus Jones, and the Struggle for Justice That Remade a Nation, Robert Whitaker highlights that one of the least tolerated no-no’s in the Mississippi Delta was the attempt by black sharecroppers to unionize, to improve both their economic situation and the treatment that they received at the hands of the white landlords. It was one such attempt to sue for fairer treatment that precipitated the massacre of (probably) hundreds of black sharecrop farmers in the region of Elaine, Arkansas in early October of that year. The repercussions of that event reshaped the justice system in this country, resulting in the federal government exercising increased power over state courts in criminal proceedings. Recommendation: Although not always easy to follow, this story is interesting and very enlightening; and should be read by all. [Refer also to the U. S. Supreme Court case, Moore v Dempsey (1923) that put teeth into the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.] “THE STORY OF THE Elaine massacre, which for various reasons is unknown—even in its broadest details—to most Americans, serves as a reminder that the struggle to make our society, as Theodore Roosevelt put it, “juster and fairer,” was a long and hard one.” (p. 321) Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition, 326 pages

  6. 5 out of 5

    Enrique

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. After the Civil War, the Republican Party (think of them as modern day Democrats) sought to enfranchise the Black minority including the former slaves from the Confederacy. Thus, began the Reconstruction Era. In order to achieve this end, the US legislature passed, among others, the Enforcement Acts of 1870 and 1871 and the 14th and 15th Amendments to the US Constitution. All these laws sought to give full citizenship to anyone born in the United States including freed slaves, ban racial discrim After the Civil War, the Republican Party (think of them as modern day Democrats) sought to enfranchise the Black minority including the former slaves from the Confederacy. Thus, began the Reconstruction Era. In order to achieve this end, the US legislature passed, among others, the Enforcement Acts of 1870 and 1871 and the 14th and 15th Amendments to the US Constitution. All these laws sought to give full citizenship to anyone born in the United States including freed slaves, ban racial discrimination in voting, and protect African-Americans’ right to vote, to hold office, to serve on juries, and receive equal protection under the laws. They even provided for the intervention of the Federal Government should the State Governments fail in these efforts. Indeed, for a short time Union Troops occupied the former Confederacy for this very purpose. Sadly, these Reconstruction efforts were vigorously sabotaged and ultimately defeated by Southern Whites Supremacists and Northern Whites’ indifference. It would take another 100 years for Blacks in the US to gain a semblance of equality. As we all know, systemic racism remains problematic even today. After getting back into the union, the White Supremacist majorities in these former Confederate States organized under the umbrella of the Democratic Party (think of them as modern day Trump Republicans). Their aim was to end Reconstruction and reestablish the old antebellum White supremacist racial order. In order to achieve this, they passed state legislations to disenfranchise Blacks and prevent them from serving in juries. By and large, they also drove Blacks out of civil service. Moreover, former Confederate States routinely criminally processed and convicted blacks on fabricated charges. Blacks were tried in kangaroo courts where all the juries were White using confessions and testimonies allegedly evidencing culpability tortured out of Black defendants and witnesses accompanied by the false testimonies of White supremacists. In these cases, capital convictions were disturbingly much too common. In addition, the governments of these former Confederate States purposefully turned a blind eye to any acts of violence and terror carried out by Whites against Blacks. In other words, they declared open hunting season on Blacks. At the time, no White who murdered or lynched a Black was processed much less convicted. In turn, any Black daring to claim equality and justice or merely trying to defend him/herself from abuse usually met a grim fate. Those unable to escape, were murdered, lynched, jailed or executed. Post Reconstruction US was the golden era of the Ku Klux Klan. Slavery was specifically outlawed after the Civil War. However, nothing prevented Southern Whites, who actually owned most of the land, from entering into contractual relationships with their former slaves for the cultivation of said land. Thus, most Blacks became sharecroppers. In theory, sharecropping sounded ideal; Blacks cultivated the land belonging to the Whites in exchange for a fair share in the proceeds from the sale of the product. Via shady accounting practices, Whites defrauded Blacks from most of the proceeds from the sale of the product. White landowners also forced the sharecroppers to buy exclusively at exorbitant prices from stores owned by them. As a result, landowners kept the sharecroppers perpetually indebted. Under this new system, landowners were even better off than under slavery; the cost of buying and maintaining a slave was higher than what they actually paid the sharecroppers. In the South, Blacks had gone from being slaves into being serfs; it was a peonage system. In the meantime, the Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) issued a series of decisions which effectively defanged all the Reconstruction legislation. SCOTUS simply declared federal courts without jurisdiction to validate or enforce any national legislation which gave any rights or privileges to Blacks. These SCOTUS decisions declared State Governments the sole and supreme guardians of their citizens' rights. They deferred to State Courts’ findings and application of the law in all cases dealing with the criminal prosecution of Black defendants. Furthermore, they also turned a blind eye to the increasing acts of violence and terror against Blacks. According to the SCOTUS, these were acts carried out by private individuals. Thus, the facts, the parties and the subject matter clearly fell within the exclusive purview of the State Governments and its Courts. Based on this same rationale, the Federal Government also refused to intervene. There’s one more salient detail that needs to be addressed. Many Blacks were drafted or volunteered as soldiers during WWI. Apparently, when the American Black regiments arrived in France, the US Commanders, all of whom were White, refused to have anything to do with them and simply turned around gave them to the French Army to be used as they saw fit. Many of these Black American regiments went on to serve with distinction under the command of French officers during the Great War. Naturally, many of these Black veterans felt that after having fought for freedom and democracy and risking life and limb for their Country during the Great War, they were entitled to their full rights and privileges as citizens once they returned. Southern Whites were aware of this sentiment among returning Black veterans and they were not about to concede anything. Instead, they were bent on reminding these returning Black veterans of their subservient status as members of an “inferior” race. Without any effective deterrence or even a credible threat of accountability for their misdeeds emanating from the Federal or the State Governments, Southern Whites indulged in a veritable orgy of blood, mayhem, death and destruction against Blacks. Thus, in the South began what can only be described as a terror regime. Blacks in the south were routinely lynched and murdered. By 1919, former Confederate States had effectively nullified all gains made by Blacks during the Reconstruction Era. During the summer of 1919, all these factors came to a head. There were multiple lynching incidents and race riots in at least 25 cities across the nation. This was the closest the US has ever come to hosting a Race War between Whites and Blacks. It was a veritable blood bath. The book deals with the worst of these 1919 incidents: the Elaine Massacre in Phillips County, Arkansas. Phillips County was fertile cotton land located in the Arkansas Delta. Immediately after the end of WWI, the price of cotton was skyrocketing. Black sharecroppers in Phillips County wanted a fair share of the proceeds from its sale. In order to achieve this end, they were trying to form a union for the express purpose of hiring a lawyer and sue the White landowners for an equitable share of the proceeds from the sale of cotton. In other words, they wanted to end the peonage system described above. On September 30, 1919, about 100 Black sharecroppers met for this purpose in a Church located at Hoop Spur in the vicinity of Elaine, Phillips County, Arkansas, They knew that what they were doing was bound to infuriate the White Elite of Helena, Arkansas, which effectively owned most of the land in Phillips County. They also knew that this fury could easily materialize into violence. Thus, on that particular night, armed guards were posted outside the Church. Later that evening, an unidentified car arrived at a bridge near the Church, turned its lights and engine off and silently stood there for a few minutes. Inside, there were 2 deputized White men and 1 Black collaborator. Then, without any provocation, all 3 got out of the car and began shooting at the Church. In turn, the guards posted outside the Church returned fire. One of the Whites was killed and the other was wounded. The Black collaborator fled back to Helena informing officials there, all of whom were White, what had transpired at the Church in Hoop Spur. Almost immediately, Whites in Helena sounded the general alarm. They claimed that there was a Black “insurrection” in Phillips County and a White man had been killed by a Black man In just a few hours, posses of White men, both local and from out of state, together with White federal troops from Camp Pike, Arkansas, were combing the country side of Phillips County. During the next 3 days, they killed every Black person in sight, regardless of age, gender or whether they were actually related to the events in Hoop Spur. In the end, it's estimated the death toll was anywhere between 100-237 Blacks vis-à-vis 5 Whites. It should be noted that there is a distinct possibility that some of these White casualties may have actually been the result of “friendly fire.” White leaders in Helena, Arkansas, with total support from the local White press, developed a narrative to justify the massacre while at the same time laying the blame squarely and exclusively on Blacks. According to their narrative, it was a Black “uprising” bent on killing all Whites in Phillips County; it was vicious psychotic blaming the victim combined with rabidly racist propaganda. Naturally, or perhaps most unnaturally, not a single case was ever filed nor a single White person ever charged for the wholesale murder of possibly hundreds of Blacks during the Elaine Massacre. Instead, about 122 hundred Blacks were indicted. Of these, 73 were charged with murder, conspiracy, insurrection, and “night-riding.” 12 other received the death penalty. About another 25 received jail sentences as high as 21 years. The rest were either left free or got much lighter jail sentences. All of them were criminally processed through Kangaroo Courts like the ones described above. Adding insult to injury, some of the very people who conspired to fabricate the narrative of a Black uprising against Whites and/or who directly took part in the massacre were the Judge, Juries, lawyers for the State and Defense lawyers during all the original trials of the Elaine sharecroppers. Indeed, in one instance, a guilty verdict was reached after just 2½ minutes of deliberation. By present day standards, these original trials were nothing more than a travesty of justice. Thus, the stage was set for the first important Civil Rights Case in US history: Moore v. Dempsey. Despite the White propaganda justifying the massacre as Black insurrection and Murder, Blacks in the country as a whole remained unconvinced. A few Black reporters and representatives of the NAACP went into Phillips County in order to investigate. After interviewing surviving Black sharecroppers in the area, they accurately concluded that the massacre was nothing more than bloody enforcement of a peonage system. Thus, the trials and convictions of the Elaine sharecroppers were nothing more than a state sanctioned part of this bloody enforcement. Not willing to let the Elaine sharecroppers pay with their lives and liberty for the unbridled greed compounded by sick bloodlust of racist ex confederate White landowners in Phillips County trying to perpetuate a peonage system, a black lawyer from Little Rock, Arkansas by the name of Scipio Africanus Jones (“Jones”), a former slave himself, together with the then budding NAACP rose to the challenge. They waged a veritable no holds barred legal battle against Arkansas' White establishment in order to save the lives and deliver from prison all the unjustly convicted Black Sharecroppers of Elaine. Jones and his associates used every trick in the book and then invented new ones. More than once, they went through all the hierarchy of both the state and the federal court systems in their quest for justice. In the end, Jones and the NAACP were able to reach the US Supreme Court. In Moore v. Dempsey, the SCOTUS ended its tragic and cruel self-imposed abstention from interfering with local State Governments and Courts unwilling to give their Black citizens their rights and privileges under the US Constitution and Reconstruction Era legislation. It opened just the slightest crack in this self-imposed abstention which eventually gave way to all the other landmark Civil Rights cases which effectively continue to dismantle the systemic racism and bigotry which even today pollutes the US. As a result, the remaining Elaine sharecroppers were set free. The book was downright riveting. By the end, I was literally transfixed. I thought it was very accessible. Notwithstanding, at times, the events described therein were so horrifying that I found myself thoroughly infuriated and disgusted. On a few occasions, I even had to pause and calm down before continuing. It’s that gut wrenching. I’d recommend this book to anybody who likes a good read and/or is interested in history, US history in particular. It’s one of those rare history books that reads like a novel but actually feels like watching a really good historical movie. Like some of the other reviewers have pointed out, this book is completely cinematic and makes one wonder why neither a movie nor a miniseries has ever been made regarding the Elaine Massacre and its ultimate redeemer and hero: Mr. Jones. Today, Mr. Jones remains largely unknown. This is tragic. It can be argued that Mr. Jones is the father of Civil Rights litigation in the US. Thus, every person who has ever benefitted from civil rights litigation owes Mr. Jones a debt of gratitude. Moreover, if we all agree, evil imbeciles excepted, that our society would be better without systemic racial prejudice and bigotry, then Mr. Jones is one of the individuals most responsible for rescuing the promises of the Reconstruction Era and effectively restarting the slow painful ongoing journey towards achieving them.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Allisonjune

    Powerful, disturbing and important, On the Laps of Gods details a brutal massacre (really, there's no other word) of African Americans in a small Arkansas town in 1919, and the ensuing legal fight that goes all the way to the Supreme Court. This largely forgotten history has clearly been meticulously researched, but was written with an eye towards a compelling narrative, not a dry recitation of facts. Powerful, disturbing and important, On the Laps of Gods details a brutal massacre (really, there's no other word) of African Americans in a small Arkansas town in 1919, and the ensuing legal fight that goes all the way to the Supreme Court. This largely forgotten history has clearly been meticulously researched, but was written with an eye towards a compelling narrative, not a dry recitation of facts.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ned

    This disturbing story of rampant evil and oppression of helpless people needs to be told. It is really a universal story of how the powerful, with little or no accountability, can impose the most harsh injustices imaginable and be extremely self-righteous while doing it. It is not merely the story of a bygone age of ignorance, it is the story of now. Don't think for a moment that it can't happen again. I was troubled by the author's disrespect for federalism and the constitution, and his simplist This disturbing story of rampant evil and oppression of helpless people needs to be told. It is really a universal story of how the powerful, with little or no accountability, can impose the most harsh injustices imaginable and be extremely self-righteous while doing it. It is not merely the story of a bygone age of ignorance, it is the story of now. Don't think for a moment that it can't happen again. I was troubled by the author's disrespect for federalism and the constitution, and his simplistic caricatures of the same. As though the more centralized government, the better. The more activist the court, the better. These things are a double-edged sword. "A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take away everything that you have." Madison's perspective on government at least respects the reality of human nature. There are no "good" or "superior" people qualified to rule over everyone else. We're all in the same flawed, mortal boat. That fact will always make government power, whether local or national, a dangerous pitfall. "If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself." James Madison, The Federalist #51. Nevertheless, the author fleshes out the basic facts and circumstances well and I highly recommend it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jeanne Andersen

    A riveting account of a watershed moment in American constitutional history where the Supreme Court finally started to make good on the promise of the 14th Amendment's guarantee of due process. This story is made even more important by the fact that this country has been sliding backwards for over 20 years as the respect for and the promise of due process has been eroded primarily by paranoid fears of terrorism. The real threat is to American democracy. Americans must stop being so complacent an A riveting account of a watershed moment in American constitutional history where the Supreme Court finally started to make good on the promise of the 14th Amendment's guarantee of due process. This story is made even more important by the fact that this country has been sliding backwards for over 20 years as the respect for and the promise of due process has been eroded primarily by paranoid fears of terrorism. The real threat is to American democracy. Americans must stop being so complacent and realize that civil rights are fragile, even in the United States, and must be actively protected and continuously fought for.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    Little known history of African Americans after the reconstruction.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rhuff

    Mr. Whitaker has done a superb job recreating a time and place that has been conveniently forgotten by modern Americans, and for this reason is in danger of being foisted upon us again by those who don't know how and why the constitutional safeguards we enjoy came to be. Or, more cynically, those who would "roll back" the "liberal handcuffs" of due process, Federal interpretation of habeas corpus, and national enforcement of the Bill of Rights know exactly what they're about and *want* to return Mr. Whitaker has done a superb job recreating a time and place that has been conveniently forgotten by modern Americans, and for this reason is in danger of being foisted upon us again by those who don't know how and why the constitutional safeguards we enjoy came to be. Or, more cynically, those who would "roll back" the "liberal handcuffs" of due process, Federal interpretation of habeas corpus, and national enforcement of the Bill of Rights know exactly what they're about and *want* to return American society to Elaine, Arkansas, in 1919. And for all the racism displayed in these events, the treatment meted out to unionizing sharecroppers who dared challenge their status quo was not much worse than that dished out to others of the period: striking coal miners in West Virginia, who fought pitched battles with state militia; steel strikers in the Northeast; Sacco and Vanzetti, of course. The violence of this period is simply stunning - the events in Elaine were not some mere aberration of Southern culture or history but in the flowing middle of the American mainstream. One can't understand more "sophisticated" versions such as McCarthyism or the War on Terror without remembering their lynching basis. Highly recommended (despite the obscure title), not only for what it says about America's past but - if certain forces in the US have their way - its future.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Erynn

    This book was written in a way that kept my attention. The notes were reserved for the end of the book and not scattered throughout the pages as footnotes. There were occasionally "asides" that contributed to some of the narrative that I really appreciated (things like why an attorney didn't participate due to a death or things like that). I hadn't heard of this incident at all and reading about it and the various behaviors during this time period was heart breaking. I had a strong feeling that t This book was written in a way that kept my attention. The notes were reserved for the end of the book and not scattered throughout the pages as footnotes. There were occasionally "asides" that contributed to some of the narrative that I really appreciated (things like why an attorney didn't participate due to a death or things like that). I hadn't heard of this incident at all and reading about it and the various behaviors during this time period was heart breaking. I had a strong feeling that this was going to end darkly, but I was incredibly happy to find out that it actually ended up with the sharecroppers receiving a happy ending (for the most part). The epilogue was a powerful statement, as well. It compared a recently (2006) passed act that suspended the habeas corpus rights for immigrants and essentially granted the military tribunals to take into evidence hearsay and coerced testimony - essentially creating a "rinse and repeat" situation that happened in Elaine in 1919. A very powerful read and I highly recommend it.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kelli George

    I normally do not recommend a book until I have finished reading it but the book I am reading now is a very good one and I recommend that everyone should read it!!! It is called On the Laps of Gods and was written by Robert Whitaker. It is about that horrible event in Phillips County, Arkansas in 1919 and what happened afterward. While it is difficult to read, it is equally difficult to put down. I have read two other books about this event but this book is superior to the other two books (A Mob I normally do not recommend a book until I have finished reading it but the book I am reading now is a very good one and I recommend that everyone should read it!!! It is called On the Laps of Gods and was written by Robert Whitaker. It is about that horrible event in Phillips County, Arkansas in 1919 and what happened afterward. While it is difficult to read, it is equally difficult to put down. I have read two other books about this event but this book is superior to the other two books (A Mob Intent on Death and Blood in Their Eyes) as it has a greater depth of details which the other books are sadly lacking!!!This book was also of particular interest to me because I grew up in Helena, Arkansas and had never even heard of this event until I was in my 20s. From what I understand they have put up, or will put up, a remembrance monument for this – which is as it should never be forgotten since a well-known saying states that “Those who fail to remember history are doomed to repeat it”

  14. 5 out of 5

    Maria Louise Schreffler

    Should Be Taught in High School History Classes I'm sure I'm not the only person who read this book and was completely unaware of the related events. I cannot fathom how anyone thought these poor sharecroppers were treated fairly. There were times when I had to put the book down for a day or two because I had such a hard time digesting not only the massacre, but the terrible injustice of the torture and trials that followed. Most Americans think this kind of racial injustice happened in the 1950s Should Be Taught in High School History Classes I'm sure I'm not the only person who read this book and was completely unaware of the related events. I cannot fathom how anyone thought these poor sharecroppers were treated fairly. There were times when I had to put the book down for a day or two because I had such a hard time digesting not only the massacre, but the terrible injustice of the torture and trials that followed. Most Americans think this kind of racial injustice happened in the 1950s and 1960s, but this was the way of life in much of the South since Reconstruction ended. It was very difficult to read how the Supreme Court continually turned its back on the Negro population (this is the term used in the book, not my words) and failed to protect their rights with every decision it made. Very eye-opening.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bob Edwards

    American History, as taught in our public school system, fails to tell the story about negro, black, afro-american sharecroppers after their emancipation from slavery. We assume, that after their freedom from slavery, life was better. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are taught that America is the home of truth, justice and equality but when it comes to the plight of negroes, it is life of lies, injustice and inequality. This is a great read about an American tragedy and the fight for American History, as taught in our public school system, fails to tell the story about negro, black, afro-american sharecroppers after their emancipation from slavery. We assume, that after their freedom from slavery, life was better. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are taught that America is the home of truth, justice and equality but when it comes to the plight of negroes, it is life of lies, injustice and inequality. This is a great read about an American tragedy and the fight for justice to free the innocent.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    Horrifyingly historical. This book sets out the timeline of the terrible effects and after effects of the massacre in 1919 Hoop Spur, Arkansas. It also gives an eye-open legal history of the Civil Rights Movement. Scipio Jones was an amazing man, a true humanitarian and success story. My one complaint regarding this book is the shear number of people involved and the lack of a chart for quick reference to remind the read of who’s who.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Rogers-elliott

    Horrifying, and excellent... should be required reading for all Americans. History like this needs to be remembered, not forgotten, and never repeated.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer W

    Really informative book on an unknown part of history. Never dragged, has great impacts on our current world. Lost a star because I noticed several errors, names misspelled, etc.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mark Stephenson

    Excellent recounting of a horrible tragedy in U.S. history a century ago. Scipio A. Jones became one of my heroes after reading this book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Abby

    2.5 stars I'm not quite sure how to rate this one.... I had to read it as a summer reading book for U.S. History. I was really skeptical at first, because I was almost sure that I wouldn't like it. It took a couple of chapters for me to get into the story, but ultimately I thought it was interesting, if not exactly entertaining. A good read for history buffs, kind of tough for high school students forced into it. 2.5 stars I'm not quite sure how to rate this one.... I had to read it as a summer reading book for U.S. History. I was really skeptical at first, because I was almost sure that I wouldn't like it. It took a couple of chapters for me to get into the story, but ultimately I thought it was interesting, if not exactly entertaining. A good read for history buffs, kind of tough for high school students forced into it.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    It literally made my heart hurt. I had no idea the terrible torture and violence that went on in this state. This book captures you right from the beginning it is hard to stop reading, but it is also very graphic. With the tears flowing you keep on and will have to stop at times to lift up prayers. It saddens you to the core.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    Shocking historical events that few Amercians know about. Now I know why! An incredibly important book, but hard to stomach at times due to the subject matter. It'd be awesome if it were required reading for a college level history class. I'm very glad I read it and it was extremely well done. Shocking historical events that few Amercians know about. Now I know why! An incredibly important book, but hard to stomach at times due to the subject matter. It'd be awesome if it were required reading for a college level history class. I'm very glad I read it and it was extremely well done.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Virginia

    Great research. Wondering if our country will ever change.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Constantine

    Read it.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Greg

  26. 4 out of 5

    Raquel Pimentel

  27. 4 out of 5

    Eben

  28. 5 out of 5

    Alismcg

  29. 5 out of 5

    Brian

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mike Duggins

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