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On the Laps of Gods: The Red Summer of 1919 and the Struggle for Justice That Remade a Nation
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Crown 2008
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They shot them down like rabbits . . . September 30, 1919. The United States teetered on the edge of a racial civil war. During the previous three months, racial fighting had erupted in twenty-five cities. And deep in the Arkansas Delta, black sharecroppers were meeting in a humble wooden church, forming a union and making plans to sue their white landowners, who for years had cheated them out of their fair share of the cotton crop. A car pulled up outside the church . . . What happened next has long been shrouded in controversy.In this heartbreaking but ultimately triumphant story of courage and will, journalist Robert Whitaker carefully documents—and exposes—one of the worst racial massacres in American history. Over the course of several days, posses and federal troops gunned down more than one hundred men, women, and children.But that is just the beginning of this astonishing story. White authorities also arrested more than three hundred black farmers, and in trials that lasted only a few hours, all-white juries sentenced twelve of the union leaders to die in the electric chair. One of the juries returned a death verdict after two minutes of deliberation. All hope seemed lost, and then an extraordinary lawyer from Little Rock stepped forward: Scipio Africanus Jones. Jones, who'd been born a slave, joined forces with the NAACP to mount an appeal in which he argued that his clients' constitutional rights to a fair trial had been violated. Never before had the U.S. Supreme Court set aside a criminal verdict in a state court because the proceedings had been unfair, so the state of Arkansas, confident of victory, had a carpenter build coffins for the men.We all know the names of the many legendary heroes that emerged from the civil rights movement: Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King Jr. among them. Whitaker's important book commemorates a legal struggle, Moore v. Dempsey, that paved the way for that later remaking of our country, and tells too of a man, Scipio Africanus Jones, whose name surely deserves to be known by all Americans.
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Street Date:
06/10/2008
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780307409164
ASIN:
B001AX9QS8
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Citations
APA Citation (style guide)

Robert Whitaker. (2008). On the Laps of Gods: The Red Summer of 1919 and the Struggle for Justice That Remade a Nation. Crown.

Chicago / Turabian - Author Date Citation (style guide)

Robert Whitaker. 2008. On the Laps of Gods: The Red Summer of 1919 and the Struggle for Justice That Remade a Nation. Crown.

Chicago / Turabian - Humanities Citation (style guide)

Robert Whitaker, On the Laps of Gods: The Red Summer of 1919 and the Struggle for Justice That Remade a Nation. Crown, 2008.

MLA Citation (style guide)

Robert Whitaker. On the Laps of Gods: The Red Summer of 1919 and the Struggle for Justice That Remade a Nation. Crown, 2008. Web.

Note! Citation formats are based on standards as of July 2010. Citations contain only title, author, edition, publisher, and year published. Citations should be used as a guideline and should be double checked for accuracy.
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      • bioText: ROBERT WHITAKER is the award-winning author of The Mapmaker's Wife and Mad in America. His manuscript of On the Laps of Gods won the prestigious J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award.

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title
On the Laps of Gods
fullDescription
They shot them down like rabbits . . .
September 30, 1919. The United States teetered on the edge of a racial civil war. During the previous three months, racial fighting had erupted in twenty-five cities. And deep in the Arkansas Delta, black sharecroppers were meeting in a humble wooden church, forming a union and making plans to sue their white landowners, who for years had cheated them out of their fair share of the cotton crop. A car pulled up outside the church . . .
What happened next has long been shrouded in controversy.
In this heartbreaking but ultimately triumphant story of courage and will, journalist Robert Whitaker carefully documents—and exposes—one of the worst racial massacres in American history. Over the course of several days, posses and federal troops gunned down more than one hundred men, women, and children.
But that is just the beginning of this astonishing story. White authorities also arrested more than three hundred black farmers, and in trials that lasted only a few hours, all-white juries sentenced twelve of the union leaders to die in the electric chair. One of the juries returned a death verdict after two minutes of deliberation.
All hope seemed lost, and then an extraordinary lawyer from Little Rock stepped forward: Scipio Africanus Jones. Jones, who'd been born a slave, joined forces with the NAACP to mount an appeal in which he argued that his clients' constitutional rights to a fair trial had been violated. Never before had the U.S. Supreme Court set aside a criminal verdict in a state court because the proceedings had been unfair, so the state of Arkansas, confident of victory, had a carpenter build coffins for the men.
We all know the names of the many legendary heroes that emerged from the civil rights movement: Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King Jr. among them. Whitaker's important book commemorates a legal struggle, Moore v. Dempsey, that paved the way for that later remaking of our country, and tells too of a man, Scipio Africanus Jones, whose name surely deserves to be known by all Americans.
reviews
      • premium: False
      • source: San Francisco Chronicle
      • content: "One of the fifty best nonfiction books of 2008."
      • premium: False
      • source: Marita Golden, author of Don't Play in the Sun: One Woman's Journey Through the Color Complex
      • content: "At the heart of this masterful narrative is Scipio Jones, a man born a slave, who became one of this country's greatest lawyers. During the awful period of racial ethnic cleansing that convulsed our country for so long, Jones turned an American tragedy into an American triumph. Bob Whitaker gives an account of a footnote of our history that is at the heart of what we aim at our best, to be as a nation. On these pages, there is an admirable and confident understanding of the ultimate scale of these events. Whitaker casts an unstinting eye back at America's brutal racial past and the power of individuals, black and white to shape individual and national destiny."
      • premium: False
      • source: Michael D'Antonio, author of The State Boys Rebellion and Hershey
      • content: "Like the classic Gideon's Trumpet, On theLaps of Gods tells the dramatic story of how extraordinary citizens fought for a basic right–in this case to a fair and proper trial–that became fundamental to our national identity. This tale alone, and Whitaker's portrayal of attorney Scipio Africanus Jones, would have made for a great book, but he gives us much more as he brings alive the tragic and oft-forgotten details of racial violence in the American heartland and reveals a history that can make us weep and also cheer. Startling, artful, and filled with truth, this is an important and compelling book."
      • premium: True
      • source: Publisher's Weekly
      • content:

        March 10, 2008
        On September 30, 1919, a group of white planters tried to shut down a black sharecroppers’ meeting in Arkansas; a sheriff was killed in the melee, and the next day hordes of whites traveled to the county. Thus began the Elaine Massacre, the “indiscriminate hunting down, shooting and killing of Negroes,” as one white witness described it. Whitaker (The Mapmaker’s Wife
        ) reconstructs the “killing fields” where by October 3, five white men and over 100 black men, women and children were killed. Hundreds of black sharecroppers were arrested; after torture-obtained confessions, 74 men were convicted and 12 received the death penalty. Whitaker examines the trial, the ensuing appeals and the heroic—ultimately successful—efforts of the lawyer and former slave, Scipio Africanus Jones and the 12 defendants who were finally set free in 1925. His research is thorough, particularly in his use of Arkansas resources; the arrangement of his documentation, however, makes tracking his sources a put-the-jigsaw-together exercise for the reader. Whitaker’s balanced report of what are, at times, diametrically opposed versions of events illuminates a dismal corner of American history.

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        July 15, 2008
        Whitaker ("The Mapmaker's Wife"), a journalist who usually writes on topics in popular science and medicine, plunges full force into the legal and historical significance of a U.S. Supreme Court decision overlooked by many historians. "Moore v. Dempsey" (1923) concerned an appeal from five blacks convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death by the Court of the State of Arkansas. The convictions stemmed from a 1919 Arkansas race riot in which a white man was killed and several people of both races were injured. Whitaker shows how NAACP attorneys struggled to defend the accused in the face of an all-white jury, prosecution witnesses who were whipped if they didn't lie, a mob outside the courthouse threatening violence if there were no convictions, court-appointed defense attorneys who refused to call any witnesses, and a trial and deliberation that took less than an hour. Whitaker carefully traces the progress of the defendants' federal appeal all the way up to a Supreme Court dominated by a group of crusty old men, a few of whom had the heart and mind to see through the sham of Arkansas justice, overturn the state court ruling, and set the men free. He praises Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, noting in particular the influence of that Boston Brahmin on the other justices, who finally agreed with Holmes that "counsel, jury and judge were swept to the fatal end by an irresistible wave of public passion." Whitaker also notes the exemplary work of Scipio Africanus Jones, the NAACP attorney, born a slave, whose effective constitutional arguments turned the tide in favor of the defendants. Highly recommended for academic and law libraries.Philip Y. Blue, New York State Supreme Court Criminal Branch Law Lib., New York

        Copyright 2008 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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shortDescription

They shot them down like rabbits . . .

September 30, 1919. The United States teetered on the edge of a racial civil war. During the previous three months, racial fighting had erupted in twenty-five cities. And deep in the Arkansas Delta, black sharecroppers were meeting in a humble wooden church, forming a union and making plans to sue their white landowners, who for years had cheated them out of their fair share of the cotton crop. A car pulled up outside the church . . .
What happened next has long been shrouded in controversy.

In this heartbreaking but ultimately triumphant story of courage and will, journalist Robert Whitaker carefully documents--and exposes--one of the worst racial massacres in American history. Over the course of several days, posses and federal troops gunned down more than one hundred men, women, and children.

But that is just the beginning of this astonishing story. White authorities also arrested more than three hundred black...

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On the Laps of Gods The Red Summer of 1919 and the Struggle for Justice That Remade a Nation
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The Red Summer of 1919 and the Struggle for Justice That Remade a Nation
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Crown