From Publishers Weekly
On September 30, 1919, a group of white planters tried to shut down a black sharecroppers' meeting in Arkansas; a sheriff was killed in the melee, and the next day hordes of whites traveled to the county. Thus began the Elaine Massacre, the indiscriminate hunting down, shooting and killing of Negroes, as one white witness described it. Whitaker (The Mapmaker's Wife
) reconstructs the killing fields where by October 3, five white men and over 100 black men, women and children were killed. Hundreds of black sharecroppers were arrested; after torture-obtained confessions, 74 men were convicted and 12 received the death penalty. Whitaker examines the trial, the ensuing appeals and the heroic—ultimately successful—efforts of the lawyer and former slave, Scipio Africanus Jones and the 12 defendants who were finally set free in 1925. His research is thorough, particularly in his use of Arkansas resources; the arrangement of his documentation, however, makes tracking his sources a put-the-jigsaw-together exercise for the reader. Whitaker's balanced report of what are, at times, diametrically opposed versions of events illuminates a dismal corner of American history. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
--This text refers to the
"One of the fifty best nonfiction books of 2008."
—San Francisco Chronicle
"Whitaker has . . . placed the massacre and the Supreme Court decision in their full legal and historical context. At the same time, he has revived the story of a great African American
lawyer, Scipio Africanus Jones."
—New York Times Book Review
"Robert Whitaker unearths a dark historical event in a creative and powerful way. Don't miss this book!"
–Cornel West, author of Race Matters
“State-sponsored terrorism is not a new phenomenon in American history; for nearly a century, it was part of the daily lot of African Americans living in the Jim Crow South. Nowhere was that reality more brutally revealed than in Phillips County, Arkansas, where in 1919 a white mob, deputized by state authorities and assisted by units of the U.S. Army, slaughtered some two hundred men, women, and children – sharecroppers whose sole offense was organizing to obtain a fair price for the cotton they grew. Robert Whitaker has reconstructed this long-forgotten episode in riveting detail. His book plumbs the depths of hatred and injustice, yet it is also a story of hope, embodied in the unlikely figure of attorney Scipio Africanus Jones, a former slave, whose dogged defense of survivors of the massacre prevented a legal lynching and changed the face of American jurisprudence.
—James T. Campbell, author of Middle Passages: African American Journeys to Africa, 1787-2005
, finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in History and winner of the Mark Lynton History Prize
“At the heart of this masterful narrative is Scipio Jones, a man born a slave, who became one of this country's greatest lawyers. During the awful period of racial ethnic cleansing that convulsed our country for so long, Jones turned an American tragedy into an American triumph. Bob Whitaker gives an account of a footnote of our history that is at the heart of what we aim at our best, to be as a nation. On these pages, there is an admirable and confident understanding of the ultimate scale of these events. Whitaker casts an unstinting eye back at America's brutal racial past and the power of individuals, black and white to shape individual and national destiny.”
—Marita Golden, author of Don't Play in the Sun: One Woman's Journey Through the Color Complex
“Like the classic Gideon's Trumpet, On theLaps of Gods
tells the dramatic story of how extraordinary citizens fought for a basic right–in this case to a fair and proper trial–that became fundamental to our national identity. This tale alone, and Whitaker's portrayal of attorney Scipio Africanus Jones, would have made for a great book, but he gives us much more as he brings alive the tragic and oft-forgotten details of racial violence in the American heartland and reveals a history that can make us weep and also cheer. Startling, artful, and filled with truth, this is an important and compelling book.”
—Michael D'Antonio, author of The State Boys Rebellion
and HersheyFrom the Hardcover edition.