The Helena World: New Legacy Center honors Elaine 12
This article first appeared on The Helena World on February 20th, 2017
“Connect the dots, always connect the dots,” Arkansas Circuit Judge Wendell L. Griffen challenged the 120 listeners who honored “The Elaine 12″ at the Elaine Legacy Center’s inaugural event in Elaine Friday afternoon.
“Connect the dots, always connect the dots,” Arkansas Circuit Judge Wendell L. Griffen challenged the 120 listeners who honored “The Elaine 12” at the Elaine Legacy Center’s inaugural event in Elaine Friday afternoon.
“The Elaine 12” were men who were sentenced to death following the Elaine Massacre of 1919. They and their families raised money to hire lawyers when convictions were handed them without access to due process of law. The NAACP stepped in to help.
Vera White sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson to open the honoring of the 12 because Johnson was a strong advocate for the 12 and others suffering from the violence of what is now known as the “Red Summer.” Elaine was the last and the largest massacre that summer.
“The same racism, hatred, and greed that caused the events of 1919 are the same racism, hatred, and greed operating today wherever there is discrimination. Time cannot let us become comfortable and complacent,” he said. He added, “But there are always good people in every situation. Don’t forget that either.”
Frequent applause was scattered throughout Griffen’s address, particularly in response to calls for guarantying human rights today and for having the same courage today to stop violations of due process of the law.
“Every time I hear the name Michael Brown, I think of Elaine. Every time I heard the name Trevon Martin, I think of Elaine,” and the list went on. He called the Elaine 12′s Supreme Court decision, Moore vs. Dempsey, “a landmark case” for civil rights.
“Elaine must be proud of its past. Proud of its leaders who didn’t give up,” Griffen emphasized. “Don’t’ sweep history under the rug. Connect the dots so we know what is happening today,” he said especially to the young people in the audience.
Steven Bradley, representative of the KIPP Charter Schools and great-great grandson of Ed Coleman, one of the Elaine 12 spoke forcefully of the role model his heritage provides him as he works with “Black Lives Matter” in Memphis. Helena-West Helena Superintendent of Schools John Hoy spoke of needing to be sure students are learning the importance of local history in the area and Dr. Joyce Cottoms, superintendent of schools of the Marvell-Elaine School District spoke with pride of today’s students and their heritage. “We’ve heard the old adage, ‘If we don’t know our history we are bound to repeat it,’“ senateshe said.
State Senator Stephanie Flowers, Senate district includes south Phillips County, closed the program saying, “I needed that inspiration and motivation today. With all that is going on in our country today, I needed that.”
Dr. Nashid Madhun, grandson of Elaine First Baptist Church’s long-time pastor Charlie Bingham, headed the steering committee The second commemoration was the “Healing the Land” service at Elaine’s Morning Star MB Church in 2012 sponsored by the Institute on Race and Ethnicity of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and local nonprofit Walnut Street Works.
“Friday was the first public event of the Elaine Legacy Center. We want our Elaine Legacy told by the people of south Phillips County, not just outsiders who only get part of the picture or miss out entirely on who we were and are. We also want the profits from our heritage to benefit south Phillips County rather than Little Rock, New York, or Hollywood,” James White of the planning team explained. “Many of us are still the poorest of the poor on the richest soils in the world.”
The Legacy Center is sponsoring the first “Richard Wright Literacy Festival” on June 17. Relatives of the Elaine 12 and findings of new research will be presented. The first of a series, ”My Granddaddy Told Me,” will be available from The Elaine Legacy Publishing Co.
On Sept. 30, the Legacy Center is sponsoring the seventh annual Prayer Service for the Healing of the Land. The Center is one of four centers under the Waves of Prayer umbrella. The other three are the Elaine Community Center, the Food and Fields Center and the Spiritual Center known as Olas de Oracion.
As the Legacy Center matures, the uniqueness of Elaine’s early wave of Mexican residents, Irish immigrants, Chinese families, and newly arriving white South Africans will all be featured. Waves of Prayer Centers are committed to increasing family incomes and ending poverty in south Phillips County.