‘Was It a Threat?’: Residents of Elaine, Arkansas, Calling Cutting Down of Tree Planted to Remember Hundreds of Black Sharecroppers Killed In 1919 Race Riot a ‘Hate Crime’

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Arkansas officials are looking into the who is behind the cutting down of a tree that was planted to remember the lives of more than 200 Black sharecroppers who were killed during a race riot in 1919, The Associated Press reported.

Facebook user Mary Olson questioned why the willow tree had been chopped down on her account Wednesday, August 21.

“The Living Memorial, memorializing all those who lost their lives in the Elaine Massacre of 1919 was chopped down at the base today and the Memorial tag stolen. It could not have been easy to get the tag off its branch. Was it vandalism? Was it a threat? Was it a hate crime. It is now blocked off with crime tape until the state investigators come,” she wrote.

elaine massacre
The Living Memorial Tree before (left) and after it was allegedly vandalized (right). (Elaine Legacy Center/Mary Olson/Facebook)

The following day, Elaine Legacy Center, where the Olson works, posted about the vandalism by sharing the woman’s post.

Accompanied in the status update were several photos of the stump of the tree, the rest of the sapling laying perpendicular to it. The now-severed willow that had been planted in remembrance of the lynching of at least 200 Black sharecroppers who met to organize a labor union nearly 100 years ago. A white lynch mob killed hundreds it was was one of the deadliest race riots of that occurred that year. Combined with similar incidents in Chicago and Washington, D.C., it was known as Red Summer.

The Living Memorial tree had been funded by the Elaine Legacy Center and it was put into the ground in April, USA Today reported.

Online, speculation has pointed to the act being spawned by racial tensions.

“Oh, no !! That’s horrible !! Definitely was a hate crime as it targeted a specific group. I’m so sorry to hear this.”

“Hate crime. Heritage terrorism.”

“If white America keeps sweeping hate crimes like this under the rug because we don’t like accepting that a hateful thing happened, then decades will pass, and hate never turn into love. Stand up! Don’t allow this to be an accepted act! Teach people what love and intelligence combined actually look like! We can not just be quiet when this awful kind of activity is happening in 2019!”

“HATE CRIME. Point. Blank. Period.”

A memorial dedicated to the Elaine Massacre is set to open in September, a century after the deadly incident occurred. However, there is some controversy surrounding the Elaine Massacre Memorial. It’s being built in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas, which is 25 miles northeast of Elaine, where the riots broke out.

“It would have been an economic engine. If you’ve been to Elaine, you know that you need a compelling reason to go there,” 75-year-old Elaine resident Duncan-Daniel told the newspaper. “If they had put a memorial there where it actually happened, it would have been a compelling reason.”

However, the memorial’s location was where 12 Black men were convicted of first-degree murder at trials in front of a white judge and an all-white jury. They were given the death sentence, but half of the convictions were overturned. Meanwhile, cases for the other six ultimately went to the U.S. Supreme Court. In February 1923 the court ruled that Arkansas didn’t give the Black defendants due process, rights guaranteed through the 14th Amendment, The Arkansas-Times reported. According to USA Today, white people were never put on trial throughout the process.

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