Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

November 24, 1923

Guest post by Monique Vanderlaan, History MA student at Arizona State University.

On November 24, 1923, the Chicago Defender reported that the NAACP announced that six men, known collectively as the Moore defendants, were going to be freed after their sentences were commuted by Governor T. C. MacRae. The men were originally sentenced to death by execution after having been found guilty of murder in hasty, sham trials held shortly after the mob violence in Elaine, Arkansas, left five white men and hundreds of black people dead. Although the race riot in Elaine was instigated by white men fearing an uprising by the black sharecroppers, and the black men who did fight only did so in self-defense, only black men were held responsible for the violence, with 122 African-American men charged with crimes ranging from “night riding” to murder. No white person was charged in connection to the violence.

These six men, aided by the NAACP, took their case to the Supreme Court, who in Moore v. Dempsey, ruled that the defendant’s rights to due process had been violated by the white mob–dominated courts. Justice Oliver W. Holmes, writing the majority opinion, declared “According to the allegations and affidavits there never was a chance for the petitioners to be acquitted; no juryman could have voted for an acquittal and continued to live in Phillips County and if any prisoner by any chance had been acquitted by a jury he could not have escaped the mob.”

To read more, see Grif Stockley’s Blood in Their Eyes: The Elaine Race Massacres of 1919.

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