Another long buried event has arisen from the murky depths of American history. According to The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, the Elaine Twelve were a group of black men from Elaine, Arkansas who were sentenced to death for the shooting death of a white deputy sheriff in the autumn of 1919. An all-white jury found them guilty in 8 minutes! Black witnesses later testified that they had been tortured into giving false testimonies and the 12 were eventually released when the convictions were overturned in higher courts.
The events that ensnared the Elaine Twelve involved the actions of a white mob that was outraged over the idea of African Americans meeting and organizing to demand fair wages. The angry mob descended upon a church in the township of Hoop Spur, just up the road from Elaine, on 31 September 1919. A shot was fired – each side blames the other for the first shot – and in the crossfire, the deputy was killed.
Newspapers quickly labeled the incident as evidence of a “black insurrection.” There were false reports that the African Americans were conspiring to kill white people. The fake inflammatory news spread to neighboring communities and hundreds more white men poured in, including federal troops, the Arkansas governor, Charles Brough, and newly deputized soldiers from the American Legion. The violence spread beyond the church to engulf more communities, and African Americans were killed in their homes and on the streets. There’s a commonly told story of an African American family, returning from celebrating their son’s return from World War I, who were pulled off a train on their way home and killed.
These horrendous events became known as the Elaine Massacre and it was by far the deadliest racial confrontation in Arkansas history with at least 200 and possibly as many as 800 Black people killed and their property destroyed. No white people were ever charged with any crime.
The Elaine Massacre has long been buried in history, but this year, to commemorate this event, the Elaine Massacre Memorial will be unveiled across the street from the courthouse where the Elaine Twelve were so quickly found guilty.
With yet another long hidden dramatic act of terrorism against African Americans revealed, it would be easy to succumb to the rush of outrage and anger in response to such a revelation. It would be easy to cast blame and justify resentment as more and more hidden history is unveiled showing how our efforts to build successful communities have been so violently stymied. It would be easy to feel hopeless as we continue to hover at the bottom of the social, political and economic ladder.
But yielding to the temporary intoxication of revenge will not get us to where we need to go. We want to rise out of society’s basement where we’ve been pushed through terrorist events like the Elaine Massacre and discriminatory government policies. We want to build strong, vibrant and prosperous communities. Anger, resentment and revenge are not the answers. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “If we practice an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, soon the whole world will be blind and toothless.”
Only forgiveness will heal us. Only forgiveness will empower us. Only forgiveness will free us. I know that on the surface that seems such a weak solution. But there is so much more to forgiveness beneath the surface of which we are not aware.
First, let us remember what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is the conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you. Forgiveness is not for the other person — the forgiven. It is for you — the forgiver. Forgiveness is not explaining away or denying the seriousness of the offense against you. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. Forgiveness does not mean condoning or excusing offenses. And forgiveness does not obligate you to reconcile with the person who harmed you, or even release them from legal accountability.
Secondly, let me remind you, that holding onto anger and resentment and unforgiveness invokes the condition known as chronic stress. And with chronic stress comes the devastating chemical destruction it inflicts upon the human body. Damage like hypertension, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, rapid aging, and accelerated cancer. So, succumbing to anger and resentment won’t make us stronger. It actually makes us weaker!
The Elaine Massacre was the act of frightened cowards who could only act through group violence. They embraced a ideology called Racism. That ideology wants to keep us down and it thrives on provoking fear and anger. That stench of that ideology befouls the air. It pollutes the environment. The violent physical expression that ideology can make our pulses race with anger. It can make our heads pound with fury. It can arouse those deeply buried cross-generational flashbacks that provoke the almost irresistible urge to strike out in rage and defense. Racism is rising again from beneath the fetid dirt where it has been hiding and is expressing itself more and more boldly every day.
Racism and those who embrace it, won’t be defeated by violence, force and retaliation. That would only feed the false narrative that we are angry dangerous savages who need to be put down. No. We’ll defeat this ugliness with weapons that are often looked down upon with suspicion and disdain – Forgiveness and Love.
First, let us invoke forgiveness for our own well-being. Let forgiveness diminish those crippling negative emotions and let it enable us to keep our wits about us. We need to see clearly what is before us and what we have to do to rise.
Then, along with forgiveness, let’s add the application of Love. Love is an energy with power much greater than most humans can possibly know. According to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” Love is Power!
So how do we accomplish this miracle of transformation and triumph using the power of forgiveness and love?
We must turn it inward. Rather than direct the energy of anger and revenge outward at others where it will do more harm than good, we need to turn the power of Forgiveness and Love inward to heal, nurture, and empower ourselves.
We need to break the chains of mental bondage created through conditioning based on centuries of lies that continue even today. One of the amazing sights to me is to see a 12,000 pound elephant held captive by a single rope tied to a stake in the ground. The elephant has the strength and power to easily break free and escape from this bondage, but he doesn’t. Why? Because he is conditioned from a very young age to believe that the rope is unbreakable and inescapable.
On a more subtle but insidious scale, the same kind of conditioning is being inflicted on the African American community. For hundreds of years, we have been terrorized with acts of violence, continuously inundated with lies that we are inferior; routinely insulted with claims that we are lazy, stupid, violent and dangerous. Therefore, we deserve to be oppressed, denied, discriminated against and even killed!
Hearing that propaganda all the time, and seeing that mythology being presented all around us, can seep under our skin and permeate our consciousness. It alters one’s self-perception. It can make us ashamed of being who we are. It can make us hate ourselves. In hating ourselves, we can develop a negative perception of those who look like us.
Healing is needed. Recognition of our own value is needed. We need to be able to look in a mirror and see beauty not ugliness. We need to be able to look in a mirror with love not shame. Loving ourselves is critical. Forgiving ourselves for succumbing to the continuous drone of contempt, ridicule and disapproval is mandatory.
Incidents like the Elaine Massacre were intended to knock us back into our so-called place. Those efforts must fail. If we can shut out the negativity of the haters who scream insults and mockery from the peanut gallery and turn our backs on the negative images presented by the media that serve to keep us ashamed and depressed, then we can begin to see the beauty of who and what we really are. Then we can really begin to appreciate what we have to offer to the world.
We must forgive ourselves for being influenced and becoming victimized by the continuous barrage of lies about us. We must forgive those who hate us and hurt us. We must let the anger go and let the resentment go. Instead, we must use our energy to move ourselves forward and lift ourselves up to the heights we were born to experience and enjoy. Let us break those mental chains that bind us and arise on the wings of our minds.
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