J. Chester Johnson on the Elaine Massacre of 1919

This BCR conversation was quite special for Rebecca and me. We had agreed at the beginning of 2020 to investigate how racism permeates our society, our values, and individual behavior. We continue to want to work on our own complicity in what J. Chester Johnson calls this country's "damaged heritage" which is also the title of his new book. "Damaged Heritage” looks deeply into the 1919 Elaine, Arkansas massacre, when over 100 Black Americans were murdered by White posses and soldiers of the U.S. Military. A central part of this story resides in the relationship Chester had with Sheila Walker; both had family members who were part of the massacre--Chester on the White side and Sheila on the Black. They became close friends. Sheila passed recently and Chester delivered the eulogy at Sheila's memorial. Here is the text of what he said.

Mr.  Johnson was educated at Harvard and the University of Arkansas. He was a financial specialist who served as a Deputy Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Treasury Department under Jimmy Carter. An essayist and poet, Chester Johnson along with W. H Auden, retranslated the Psalms for The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. 

Last year “Damaged Heritage” was Amazon’s Best Seller for social activism biographies.


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