Today in labor history: Black farmers meet to unionize, are attacked

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On this day in 1919, African-American farmers met at the Hoop Spur Church in Elaine, Arkansas to establish the Progressive Farmers and Householders Union in order to fight for better wages and higher cotton prices. They were shot at by white men, one of them a deputy sheriff, the other a railroad detective, and returned fire in self-defense. The railroad detective was killed, sparking the Elaine Race Riot.

Arkansas Gov. Charles Hillman Bough sent 100 U.S. troops to the area, where they exchanged gunfire with the farmers. Over the following days, 285 black residents were put in stockades for so-called investigation, while somewhere between 100 and 200 black men were killed in the ensuing violence.

79 African-Americans were convicted of crimes after unfair trials, with 12 sentenced to death. Their union was destroyed by the repression and prejudice that followed the shootout.

Photo: TimeToast

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