Rural black women’s legacy of activism and self-advocacy has been lost in accounts of the Elaine Massacre.
That’s according to local historian Dr. Cherisse Jones-Branch, who highlighted the experiences and resilience of these women in her recent presentation “‘What are you going to do with us women?’: Gender, violence, and the 1919 Elaine Massacre.”
The talk was given Sept. 19 at Lyon College in recognition of the centennial of the tragedy.
Jones-Branch, the James and Wanda Lee Vaughn Endowed Professor of History at Arkansas State University, explained that the Elaine Massacre began on Sept. 30, 1919, near Elaine in rural Phillips County, Ark.
A meeting of the Progressive Farmers and Household Union of America, an organization of African-American tenant farmers and sharecroppers, was disrupted by white men, resulting in the fatal shooting of a white man.
Hundreds of white people poured into the area in retaliation, killing an estimated 100 to 237 black people. Jones-Branch said the total number of casualties is still being debated.
“The event, erroneously named ‘the Elaine Race Riot,’ was precipitated by rural African Americans’ assertiveness through their demands for improved economic conditions and human dignity at a time when the South and the nation determined they were unworthy of both.”
Black women’s experiences have been left out of the story, she said.
“What hasn’t been explored is the extent to which women challenged Southern racial violence through their individual and collective efforts. In Arkansas, they challenged this through organizations like the Arkansas Association of Colored Women, which still exists to this day.”
Black people in the rural South organized to protect their economic interests, Jones-Branch said, and women were present at these meetings, too. Ed Ware didn’t want to attend the meeting on Sept. 30, but his wife, Lulu, insisted.
“Like many rural black women, she was the force behind her husband,” Jones-Branch said. “The Wares owned and farmed 120 acres of land. That’s part of the sharecropping story we don’t often hear. Whites felt threatened by this sort of black financial independence.”
“When violence ensued at the church, most accounts focus on the shootout between the men, not that armed black women were a concern as well.”
Men came to the Wares’ house to arrest Ed. He was on the run, but Lulu was left behind.
“She asked ‘What are you going to do with us women?’ They underestimated the lengths women were willing to go to in order to defend their homes.”
“Lulu was arrested and imprisoned with other black women for about four weeks,” continued Jones-Branch. “They were forced to perform hard labor and sleep on concrete floors. When Lulu returned home, she found that people had ransacked her home and stolen all of her worldly possessions.”
After being released, the women communicated with organizations and activists, like journalist and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells Barnett and suffragette and co-founder of the NAACP Mary White Covington, to free the men arrested during the Elaine Massacre.
“Ida and Mary received national and international support,” Jones-Branch said. “Between 1923 and 1925, the court case Moore v. Dempsey was settled, and the remaining men were released.”
“Rurality did not equal ignorance and passivity for these women. These women had nothing but refused to be silent. They engaged in self-advocacy in the face of extreme racial and sexual violence.”
Chief Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court John Dan Kemp advised Lyon students not to take their freedoms for granted.
Kemp visited the College on Sept. 17 to celebrate Constitution Day, discussing the history of the Constitution and how it related to his experience working in the judicial branch. Reflecting on a recent 9/11-centered event, Kemp said he was reminded that most college students either were not born or were too young to remember the hijackings.
“Those of us who are older experienced that, and we can remember where we were. For everyone else, 9/11 is just history,” he said.
“The same is true for our constitution. It’s history. The only thing we’ve lived through is the benefits of that constitution that we sometimes take for granted.”
While these freedoms are now classified as inalienable rights, they were not recognized before the Constitution was drafted. When the U.S. was under the influence of the British Crown and King George II, the king appointed judges, the judges set the taxes, and the colonies paid without representation.
“Our constitution criticized King George III for making judges dependent on his will alone,” Kemp said. “[Now] Judges in Arkansas are elected… They are able to rule fairly without fear of being removed from office for a decision the king disagrees with.”
Kemp continued, “I think it’s the best way to appoint judges. What I appreciated most when I ran for Chief Justice was that when I would visit people they were not too shy to tell me the problems they had with the court system … some of those problems I could address and try to correct.”
None of that would be possible without the Constitution, he said.
“It’s hard to conceptualize a time before the constitution was written. We were an experiment in democracy.”
Kemp brought up the importance of jury pools, encouraging students to take advantage of the freedoms granted by the Constitution.
“Aside from serving in the military, jury duty, and voting are the most patriotic things one can do,” Kemp said.
“This is an important day to celebrate the history of our Constitution and what it means for our republic,” said Lyon President W. Joseph King.
“You cannot equate your purpose with goal-based achievements.”
Lindsey Carter, ‘13, executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) of Independence County, shared this message at the Fourth Annual Lyon College Peace Rally on Sept. 19. The theme of this year’s event was kindness and how it can lead to peace.
Carter explained that CAC serves child abuse victims, bringing different agencies under one roof to make the investigation better and less traumatic for children. Since opening nine months ago, CAC has served about 185 children in Independence and surrounding counties.
As a forensic interviewer, Carter said her job is to listen to kids and be a safe person they can trust.
“There are times in my career when I’ve sat back and thought ‘Wow, this world is really ugly.’”
She continued, “I’ve learned that if I continue defining my success by measuring how much ugliness is in the world, then I’m going to fail all the time.”
Carter advised attendees not to equate their purpose with their profession, encouraging them to consider the impact of everyday acts of kindness.
“Whatever you end up doing in your profession, I’m sure you will serve an amazing purpose, but that isn’t your sole purpose in being here,” she said.
“Being present for people who need you, listening to a child who needs to talk, or tying your elderly grandparent’s shoes… those are the things you do from your heart. I truly believe that’s when you make an impact on the world.”
Carter said kindness is “our saving grace” and how to provide unity and happiness.
“It’s taken me a while to understand that the services and procedures we do on a day-to-day basis at CAC make a difference, but what it really comes down to is responding with kindness, compassion, and love inside and outside of our daily work.”
Lyon’s chaplain, the Rev. Magaret Alsup, thanked everyone for attending the rally and continuing to support the commitment to work for peace and unity on Lyon’s campus and in the larger Batesville community.
“We promote peace in the world when we are kind to those we encounter,” Alsup said. “We all know kindness, and a kind word can change someone’s day.”
As a way to visually represent the commitment to peace, she invited everyone to paint a rock with images or words of affirmation for two community kindness rock gardens. One will be placed on Lyon’s campus, and the other will be placed on CAC’s campus.
“Take a rock when you’re in need of a word of hope or encouragement.”
The Washington Post recently published a Lyon professor’s review of a new book about President Barack Obama’s foreign policy.
In the review, Assistant Professor of History Dr. Brian D’Haeseleer discusses “Obama’s Unending Wars: Fronting the Foreign Policy of the Permanent Warfare State” by historian Jeremy Kuzmarov. D’Haeseleer says the book presents “a harshly critical take” on Obama’s foreign policy, and that the book suggests that Obama, not Pres. Donald Trump, launched “the new cold war.”
“While an ambitious effort to analyze Obama’s foreign policy record, [the book] offers neither a nuanced nor empathetic appraisal of the former president,” D’Haeseleer says.
“Nonetheless, Kuzmarov’s book is serious and fair and should prompt historians—and the rest of us—to reevaluate Obama’s legacy.”
The article has subsequently been featured in The Advocate Online, Jewish World Review, Greenwich Time Online, News-Time Online, Connecticut Post Online.
Drug-resistant bacteria are one of the most urgent public health issues in the world, and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dr. Irosha Nawarathne and her students are researching solutions.
Nawarathne opened the Faculty Colloquium lecture series on Sept. 13 with a discussion of her medicinal chemistry research, “Oh, The … You’ll See!” The blank in the title represented molecules, she said, because observing the interactions between drug molecules and the drug targets is key to medicinal chemistry.
In addition to the research on drug-resistant bacteria, Nawarathne’s research team works on developing new pharmaceuticals for lung cancer, the most frequent and deadly cancer type in Arkansas and the U.S. Nawarathne researched cancer as a graduate student at Michigan State University.
She explained that bacteria and viruses can develop a resistance to medications previously used for successful treatment, a process known as antimicrobial resistance.
“Having superbugs that can survive in the presence of antibiotics is a problem not only for public health but also for pharmaceutical companies,” Nawarathne said.
By the time antibiotics are put on the market, bacteria have often already gained resistance.
“If you spent 20 to 30 years making a chemical that can be an antibiotic, that’s a huge issue. You lost time and billions of dollars developing the antibiotic. This is a challenge we have to deal with as medicinal chemists.”
Nawarathne and her students focus on drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis (TB). Although many think the disease was wiped out, she said there were about 10 million cases and 1.3 million deaths from TB worldwide in 2017.
Multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB) is resistant to at least two of the first-line drugs used for treatment, rifampin and izoniazid. Extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR TB) is resistant to most available treatment.
Nawarathne said treating a single case of TB is expensive, costing about $19,000. A case of MDR TB costs about $164,000 to treat, she said, and a case of XDR TB costs about $526,000.
“You can imagine how much of a burden this can be for a country, especially developing countries, where they don’t have the money or treatments.”
Her research team has been working on the development of novel rifamycins, a group of antibiotics effective against Mycobacterium, to combat MDR TB strains by gaining a deeper understanding of molecular interactions between the rifamycins and the Mycobacterium RNA polymerase, an enzyme responsible for copying a DNA sequence into an RNA sequence.
The drugs stop the production of proteins by bonding to the RNA polymerase, killing the bacteria. If mycobacteria change the protein, chemists must change the drug accordingly in order for them to bind back together.
“If the drug is not effective, it won’t bind to the RNA. We go through several steps, from purification to analysis to activity tests to see if we have gotten the results we want.”
The research team patented a drug in 2018 that could be developed into an antibiotic to treat drug-resistant mycobacteria, she said. The team also has a research paper under review.
“We have made an array of molecules that could be developed to treat lung cancer, which have demonstrated promising anticancer activities against Lewis lung cancer line and also melanoma.”
Nawarathne said she has had the opportunity to work with more than 20 research students at Lyon and is thankful for their commitment to the project.
“I love watching them grow professionally and intellectually. I am so thankful for all of them and their enthusiasm, dedication, and encouragement.”
She is also grateful for the continuous support and funding from Arkansas IDea NetWork of Biomedical Excellence (INBRE), FutureFuel Chemical Company, Lyon College, and her collaborators at the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences, University of Michigan, and Michigan State University.
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