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Community Revisits 1919 Race Riot
Associated Press Writer

HELENA, Ark. (AP) FEBRUARY 10, 2000 — Historians and community residents opened a two-day discussion Thursday of a 1919 race riot that they hope will resolve some hard feelings among blacks and whites in this Mississippi Delta region.

Participants are revisiting the day — Sept. 30, 1919, near Elaine — when a white deputy was killed and white posses from Arkansas and Mississippi apparently took revenge on blacks, killing anywhere from 20 to 200 or more.

Right now, race relations in Phillips County are particularly strained. The West Helena mayor's office and city council are divided along race lines, and last year's organizers of a popular Blues Festival at Helena were criticized by a former state lawmaker, who's black, as being racist.

Gerry Crabb of the Phillips County Historical Society said the meeting was not organized in response to current disputes but has been in the works for about two years.

About 220 people gathered at an old movie house Thursday night for the conference. They viewed a documentary on the Elaine race riot, heard an overview on racial violence in Arkansas and listened to recollections from people who grew up in the period.

``Maybe this meeting will bring about a little more closeness and people will understand blacks and whites are due justice,'' said Ora Quarles, whose father was a lawyer for blacks arrested in the riots.

Arkansas isn't the only state trying to confront past violence. The state of Oklahoma is debating what reparations, if any, it should award those who survived a 1921 race riot at Tulsa. Historians say between 100 and 300 people were killed in that riot and more than 10,000 were left homeless.

No one in Arkansas is leading an effort for reparations. Historians say so much conflicting information surrounds the race riots at Elaine that the conference will serve as a helpful beginning step toward figuring out exactly what happened 80 years ago.

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