A couple of years ago, following the dedication of the Jacob Trieber Federal Building in Helena, I began meeting with some people about the Elaine Massacre of 1919. After months of conversations, we decided to build a monument to the people who died in the massacre.
Our goal is to recognize the massacre and to continue bridging racial division.
We chose to put the monument in Court Square Park in Helena because: (1) it is the most public place in the county; (2) it is across the street from the courthouse where the sham trials were held; and, (3) although it is commonly called the Elaine Massacre, the massacre did not occur in Elaine.
Opposition to the monument was immediate and fierce. One group says it will only foment black rage. One group says it should be in Elaine because Elaine needs tourist money. One group says it should be in Elaine so nobody will ever see it. One group says Jesus is against it because it is a monument to white supremacy.
There is nothing wrong with reasoned disagreement and debate, but alleging that we are building a monument to white supremacy is simply untrue. My brother, Kyle Miller, and I are part of the group building the monument. Four of our great-uncles were killed in the massacre. Our great-grandmother, Eliza Miller, was called to identify the bodies.
Our great-aunt, Mariah Miller-Johnston, identified the cold body of her husband, David Augustine Johnston, with horror. She immediately left Phillips County and never returned. Her descendants did not return to Arkansas until this past July.
Our great-uncle, Lucien Miller, moved to Chicago and never returned. Our great-aunt, Katie Miller, moved to Los Angeles and rarely returned.
Our grandfather, Robert Miller, was only 13. Eliza was so grief-stricken at what she witnessed, and horrified at the thought of her youngest son being killed, that she packed him up and sent him away. My grandfather grew up isolated from his family in Boston. This had a profound effect on him, and later on his relationships with our father, Robert Miller Jr., our Aunt Maxine and our Aunt Doris.
My grandfather's journey as a result of the massacre had some effects on my family that are too painful to discuss publicly.
So when it is alleged that we are erecting a monument to white supremacy, that Jesus is mad at us for honoring our dead ancestors in the most public place in Phillips County, or that the monument should be located somewhere that no one will ever see it, my gentlest response is: Please stop this foolishness!
U.S. District Judge Brian Miller is a native of Helena.
Editorial on 08/24/2019