Little Rock Central High Drawing 1 Students Study the Elaine Massacre
Jessica Taverna wanted her students to have an experience in Drawing 1 that they would not forget. With the help of the Arkansas Humanities Council, National Endowment for the Humanities, and historian George West, Ms. Taverna and her students embarked on a journey to better understand the Elaine Massacre and how art can help tell the story of difficult moments in history. What they created was powerful, unique, and important. But most of all, an experience they will never forget. Thea Foundation is honored to host this show and share this time in Arkansas history.
Working as partners, students in Jessica Taverna’s Drawing I class utilized art to interpret the history of The Elaine Massacre and social injustice. The teams, working as researchers and artists, created collages to depict a difficult chapter in Arkansas history. Utilizing first person and journalist accounts, they learned about the Elaine Massacre through the voices that were present. They then created their pieces and paired them with artist statements to describe how they achieved their work. “Their Voices” is a way for students to learn from difficult history and share their viewpoints with the community. By teaching lessons like these, Mrs. Taverna is working to bring unity and cultural awareness to her classroom.
This project is supported in part by a We The People grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Brieanna Conley Smith
Jessica Taverna, Instructor
Because of Her
Emma Ebenezer, William Onyango
Our work explores the Elaine Massacre and the biased coverage by the media in comparison to the coverage done by Ida B. Wells, the journalist who interviewed prisoners on trial. The actions of the Supreme Court ensured that the due process clause was not only applied to groups of people who were powerful, but also to minorities who were on trial. This ensured the Constitution was applied to all groups and that their constitutional rights as citizens were protected.
While studying the events of the massacre, we discovered the media had a central role in the severity of the situation for African Americans in the area. We burned the picture of the police officers to depict the corruption of the American police department and the failure in their responsibilities as defense for the public. We have the logo of the NAACP to show they were a helping force of people of color and that their actions were significant. The hand-drawn portrait of Ida B. Wells is the most colorful piece on the poster to emphasize her importance as an activist and as an honest journalist. Because of her, the twelve men who were on death row were saved.
We strongly feel that the police and the media, two institutions that are meant to protect the people, did exactly the opposite when it came to Black people. The police, who are meant to defend and protect all people, instead, attacked minority groups. The media condemned Black people, leading to the entire nation siding against them. This made the roles of Ida B. Wells and the NAACP all the more important as they brought national attention to this issue which led to the involvement of the U.S. Supreme Court, allowing the Elaine 12 to receive a fair trial.
Noah Whitlow, Brieanna Conley-Smith
A group of sharecroppers who wanted better payments from white plantation owners held a meeting at a church. This led to a tragic event where over 200 African Americans were killed by a white mob. This spiked the interest of many activists such as Ida B. Wells and the NAACP to fight the death sentences handed down in Helena, the NAACP hired the Little Rock law firm of George C. Murphy as a counsel for the Elaine Twelve.
What we used to make this artwork was marker, pen, water color, vine charcoal, and printouts. Our main focal points were the church and the men who were wrongly convicted in 8 minutes without the legal requirement of due process. We used a printout of a newspaper that says “SIX DEATH VERDICTS IN EIGHT MINUTES.” Underneath it, my partner drew an African American man in a jail cell. This is to portray one of the Elaine 12 who were wrongly convicted. We decided to put Ida B. Wells beside the jail cell because when she heard about the news, she immediately started to raise money to save them and bring attention to their case. We decided to use brown watercolor to paint her because it ties into the newspaper article about the death verdicts.
In the top right hand corner is the church and we outlined it because it’s our focal point, and it’s where the movement started. We used the colors to make it stand out and draw the eye directly to the church. In the center we put the memorial because it symbolizes the grave of the victims that they didn’t find. The stairs leading up to the memorial help to connect the images in the two bottom corners to the memorial showing the connection and emotion connected to the memory of this historic event.
Injustices at Hoop Spur
Elena Coleman, Daijon McDaniel
Our work dissects the brutal events of the Elaine Massacre. Through cut-outs, paper clippings, drawings, and text, we attempt to convey a theme of injustice as well as the realities of what the members of Elaine county experienced. The trials of the Elaine 12 did not include the same level of due process that we have now. If they had, many more rulings, if not all, would have gone in their favor. Without the U.S. Supreme Court, the NAACP, and exposure from Ida B. Wells through pamphlets like The Arkansas Race Riot, the court cases of the 12 would not have been repealed.
As this year moved into Black history month, we started thinking about the history of African Americans in Arkansas and discovered this event. We knew immediately that this was something that needed to be exposed. The viewer can understand what the victims went through by reading the included quotes, such as the song lyric, “My heart is overwhelmed with sorrow, my eyes are melted down with tears.” By analyzing the newspaper headlines, the viewer can understand the problems with the justice system back then, as the event was spun to put the blame on the people of Elaine county. A drawing of Hoop Spur Church, the location where the shootings were first seen and heard, was also added to aid the viewer in visualizing the event by showing them where it started. The names in the background are the names of the Elaine 12, along with other known victims who lost their lives due to the shootings. We felt this was important because it makes the aftermath seem more real, and names have a lot of power.
We hope that through the art of collage, people will be able to connect to this event on a personal level because they will have a visual as they learn about it. This artwork will shine a light on the problems that are still going on to this day in relation to the Elaine Massacre, as well as inspire people to consider ways to spread awareness about modern racial prejudices.
Johanna Weinheimer, Steven Davis
On the night of September 30, 1919, about 100 black sharecroppers held a meeting at a church in Hoop Spur, Arkansas. This group called themselves the Progressive Farmers and Household Union of America. This meeting was held to obtain better payments for their labor and cotton crops. While it was taking place, a mob of armed white men came to the church and fired at the black guards standing in front of the church. The shots were then returned by the black guards, and a shootout began. During this shooting, a white agent of the Missouri Pacific Railroad was shot and killed. This led to rumors that black people were “attacking” the white people in Elaine. The next day, the sheriff of Phillips County sent men out to arrest the suspects of the shooting. About 500-1000 armed white people began to hunt down and slaughter the black residents around Elaine. It wasn’t until 2 days later that the U.S. troops arrived and the white mobs began to go home. It was reported that many of the black residents were tortured and killed by these soldiers. Several hundred African-Americans were arrested and twelve men were sentenced to death. Civil Rights Movement leader, Ida B. Wells interviewed the Elaine 12 in jail and helped bring their stories to light for the rest of America. After the government failed the men, she was their last hope. Without her, they would have been wrongfully put to death. Because of her importance in the stories of the Elaine 12, we chose to make Ida B. Wells the focal point of our artwork.
Our work shows the historical Elaine Massacre through the use of important quotes and images. We used watercolor, graphite, and ink in our work. The background was made with a light brown watercolor to make the images in the foreground stand out. The main focus of the piece is a picture of Ida B. Wells that we watercolored to give an antiqued feel. On the left side, we drew a picture of an old church, similar to the one where the Massacre took place. There is also a drawing of the Elaine Massacre memorial which opened on September 29, 2019, in Helena, Arkansas. We chose to include a drawing of the memorial because we wanted to show that the people who died in the race riot are not forgotten. We decided to burn the edges of the picture of Ida B. Wells and the church. Many white people hunted down the black people in Elaine and burned their homes with the families still inside of them, so we wanted to show the heartless acts that were committed. We also used newspaper headlines to convey the depth of this tragedy. As artists, we want the viewer to feel the sorrow that is attached to this event.
Lindsay Collins, Zachary Onyango
Throughout our experience creating this artwork we learned several new things that we hadn’t known before, like her fight for women’s suffrage as well as blocking the establishment of segregated schools in Chicago. There was even a Barbie doll fashioned in her likeness to honor her accomplishments. We found images and articles from the event and incorporated them into our artwork to provide a historical summary. We used watercolor as the background, text as information, drawings as representations, and printouts as headlines. In addition to this we added quotes into our collage to express the viewpoints of the people during this time.
The composition of our artwork was used to show the pictures in a way similar to a bulletin board or mood board about the event. The pictures are placed imperfectly at all different angles, and are designed to look as though they are attached with tape. It gives a unique perspective to the event by showing it in a way different to what you have probably seen before. A very strong area of this piece is the title, which we chose to place in the corner in front of shreds of different newspaper articles covering all perspectives of The Elaine Massacre. There are also cutouts of flowers attached to the paper, acting almost like stickers or drawings stuck to the board, were used to describe our feelings about the event. The first flower that was chosen was a poppy. Red poppies signify remembrance, which perfectly described the lens we wanted to create this piece under. This is why we named our piece “Remembrance.” The second flower is a chrysanthemum, which often symbolizes sorrow in settings like funerals. We chose to include this flower to show how heartbreaking the loss of these lives really were and to show our condolences for the loved ones of those who passed.
The Falling Church
Janae Porter, Blakely Campbell, Bhavi Patel
Our work portrays the event that occurred on September 30, 1919 in Elaine, Arkansas by highlighting the attack on the peaceful union of sharecroppers that were holding a meeting inside a church. During the meeting, they came into conflict with a couple of white men resulting in one death that sparked rumors of riots. This resulted in the deaths of hundreds of African Americans. The NAACP played a role in calling out the unfairness of the Arkansas justice system. One of these members was Michael Curry, the chair of the NAACP Advocacy and Policy Committee. He said, “You had 12 black men who were clearly charged with murder in a system that was absolutely corrupt at the time — you had mob influence, you had witness tampering, you had a jury that was all-white, you had almost certainly judicial bias.”
We were influenced by the stories of the 12 men that nearly met their deaths sentenced from unfair trials. We decided to reflect this through displaying their names as steps to the church and drawing 12 bullet holes on the sides. To bring emphasis to the church fires we used bright warm colors of the flames to contrast the monochromatic color of the background and the church. We created a collage of newspaper headlines, photos of the victims affected by the massacre and important figures in civil rights such as Ida B. Wells. The watercolor tree painted on the background represents the African Americans lynched by the white mobs. The song lyrics around the flames represented the songs that the wives and children of the 12 men convicted would sing to bring comfort through this harsh time.
As artists, we want the viewer to be left with a sense of sadness and confusion for the deaths and the unfairness of how the justice system played a role in the conviction and sentencing of 12 innocent African American men. This heartless massacre left hundreds of families devastated by the tragic loss of life and feeling hopeless.
Hayden Glover, Ahona Ghosh
Our work is about the Elaine Massacre and the memorial that was made afterwards. The Elaine massacre occurred on September 30 through October 1, 1919 at Hoop Spur in the vicinity of Elaine in rural Phillips County, Arkansas. A group of sharecroppers were discussing ways of getting better payment for their cotton crops. During the meeting there was gun fire and a mob made up of 500-1000 white people. As a result, as many as several hundred African Americans and five white men were killed.
We have a picture of the memorial right in the middle because that was our main focus. We also have a mixture of drawn pictures, quotes, and newspaper clippings from the time of the massacre all around the sides. We added to the newspaper to the back of the memorial image to make it stand out. The pictures were added to show what life was like in Elaine. We also added the two drawings to show the location of Elaine and the architect of Elaine during the time period. We used this quote “It is important that, by telling stories of those who lived through the incredible violence in the summer of 1919 we seek to know, to understand and learn from what is now all of our story”- Christine Drale. We think this is a great quote because more people should know about the massacre. This project was the first time we learned about it. But, a lot of people don’t know about it and they should because it’s an important part of our Arkansas history.
The Red Summer Post
Asher Simmons, Jack Tackett
This project was a learning experience for the both of us, I (Asher) was able to learn more about how my people were treated in my own home state. It was very interesting to see how things like this still go on. with police brutality and the covering up of black hate crimes, massacres of black protesters who are labeled as criminals and thugs by the press while white police officers and even racist bystanders that murder these protesters are labeled as heroes. To this day white people still have a strong grasp on the press, and since the murders of innocent black people go hidden everyday it’s up to us to be able to bring those stories to the light and to let the black voices of today be heard.
Throughout this project, I (Jack) gained more knowledge on the terrible crimes white people have committed against other races. I’m very glad that I was able to learn about this massacre through the point of view of someone who isn’t white, and that made sure that I was not given a false account like the newspapers of the time gave. As someone who is white, I feel very disappointed and sad that something like this could have happened, and that it still continues today. There is still murder being committed based on someone’s race that is being justified through the media as the victim’s fault. As a society we need to continue showing the truth behind these events that occur.
Our project portrays the truth of a horrific massacre that was hidden behind the wall of the media, portraying the victims as evil and only wanting to steal money from the whites. Using our more modern technology we can replicate things from the past, with this we were able to use historical imagery to make a powerful collage filled with actual news clippings that were posted during the time period of the massacre. This artwork reveals the lies that were spouted out by newspapers, showing the mobs of whites who gathered to go on ruthless killing sprees. We drew nooses to bring attention to the 12 black men sentenced to death in trials that lasted less than 8 minutes, there is a dead body in front of a building to show that murder was the reality of this event, and a burning church to symbolize where the massacre began and how the mobs of murderers attempted burn away the hope of the black sharecroppers.
Rachel Laster, Ashley Lopez
Our work explored the voices of the victims and how the reporters were a voice for those who were unable to be their own. The main voices were Ida B. Wells-Barnett, who was a Black investigative journalist known for her utter fearlessness in her “crusade for justice” for her people, and Robert Lee Hill, who was an African-American leader who was forced to flee Arkansas during the bloody Elaine Massacre of 1919. With the help of Ida B. Wells-Barnett and the NAACP, it was ruled in the Moore v. Dempsey case that the state of Arkansas had not established “a corrective process” that would have authorized the defendants to exercise their constitutional right to due process of law on appeal, and the original processes in Helena had been a “mask.”
We used the composition mix of newspaper clippings, drawings of the victims and reporters, in contrast to the information we put behind the images, as well as important headlines being shown prominently. Although we didn’t use a lot of variation of color, we did use red, which brings the viewer’s eye straight to it and the information it presents. Inside the writing is the story of the massacre and the cause and result of the actions that took place. In the drawings we made, we used watercolor to give age to them as well as sprinkling red for the imagery it presented about the murders. We chose to highlight the lost voices due to many people not knowing of this tragedy. We didn’t want to show just who they are but also what they did in support of the victims. By using newspaper clippings, we were able to use real thoughts and reactions of the surrounding people during the time of this massacre.
To Bring Awareness
Hallie Johnson, Gracie Foster
Our collage is based on the contrast of past and present. On one side we added the church with rioters and harsh colors to show the bloodshed and fear during this event. On the other side we focused towards the memorial of the 12 who were prosecuted with lighter, pastel colors. We used a flower pastel background to bring a softer, more gentle tone to contradict the harsh colors on the left. The right is more focused on the memorial and the people whose lives were lost during the massacre. We used cut-outs of the Elaine 12 and formatted them into the number 12 to show remembrance towards them. We drew a picture of the church where the actual Elaine Massacre occurred to show the extent of the massacre. We used images and drawings from the Elaine Massacre Memorial to bring remembrance to the past while also reminding future generations of the event.
Something that we felt passionate about during this project was the amount of victims who still have not found justice. A step towards finding justice for those who were known and unknown is to bring awareness. Most people that live in Arkansas are not made aware of the Elaine Massacre. Hopefully our project will bring knowledge as well as respect to those lost.