The Elaine Massacre Memorial in Helena, Arkansas, caused controversy among local activist groups.

By Madison Peek
The Howard Center For Investigative Journalism

James White looked at the barren ground in Elaine, Arkansas, where a memorial tree dedicated to hundreds of Black lynching victims once grew and reflected on his hometown.

White grew up in Elaine, where few talk about the horrific massacre that in 1919 claimed the lives of Black farmers. The willow tree was supposed to provide a place to remember their legacy. Now, it’s gone.

“It looks like a friendly little town, but it’s really not,” White said. The first tree was chopped down, he said, and a second mysteriously died.

The repeated vandalization of Elaine’s willow tree is one of many episodes across the country where memorials honoring the memory of lynching victims have been defaced or destroyed. 

In 2020, the FBI reported more than 2,400 hate crimes that involved the destruction, damage or vandalization of property. The majority of reported hate bias incidents were anti-Black.

In Mississippi, next to the banks of the Tallahatchie River, a memorial to Emmett Till has been pierced with bullets, stolen and thrown into the river where Till’s body was found after he was lynched in 1955 at the age of 14.

Monuments are put up by the people who have the power to put them up at the time.

DELL UPTON | RESEARCH PROFESSOR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES

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