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On the Laps of Gods: The Red Summer of 1919 and the Struggle for Justice That Remade a Nationby Robert Whitaker
Synopses & Reviews
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.
Describes a brutal confrontation between white planters and black sharecroppers in 1919 Arkansas, violence that left a sheriff dead and led to the massacre of more than one hundred black men, women, and children; the capital conviction of twelve union leaders; and a court battle, led by ex-slave-turned-attorney Scipio Africanus Jones, that set the stage for the Civil Rights movement a half-century later. 40,000 first printing.
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 chil
About the Author
\ROBERT WHITAKER is the award-winning author of The Mapmaker’s Wife and Mad in America. His manuscript of On the Laps of Gods won the prestigious J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award.
Table of Contents
A union in Hoop Spur — The path to Hoop Spur — The Red Summer of 1919 — Helena — The killing fields — They shot them down like rabbits — Whitewash — The longest train ride ever — A lesson made plain — Scipio Africanus Jones — The constitutional rights of a race — I wring my hands and cry — All hope gone — Great writ of Liberty — Taft and his court — Hardly less than revolutionary — Thunderbolt from a clear sky — Birth of a new nation.
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History and Social Science » African American Studies » General