HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. – Growing up in 1960's Helena-West Helena, Phyllis Hammonds thought she had seen the worst of racism.
“I sat on the back of the bus. I drank out of the colored water fountain,” she explained.
That is, until her mother opened up a new chapter in history she had never even heard of -- the 1919 Elaine Massacre in nearby Elaine, Arkansas.
“Oh my God. I was a child, and I could not understand it,” said Hammonds.
As many as 237 African-American sharecroppers were killed over several days by a white mob after trying to organize a union.
“A couple of deputies came from Helena, and one of the deputies was killed. That led to further killing,” said Rayman Solomon of the Elaine Massacre Committee.
Tuesday, a small group of history lovers gathered in Helena-West Helena at the site of the future memorial to the Elaine Massacre, right across from the Phillips County Courthouse.
It’s the same courthouse where dozens of men went on trial for their alleged roles in the massacre.
“There’s a healing when people can talk about the experience that has been covered up for so long,” said Carla Coleman of the Black History Commission of Arkansas.
But even with the memorial, there are still those who feel their voices are being drowned out.
Not far from where people celebrated the addition of the memorial, a small group of protesters gathered.
They’re upset the memorial will be placed in Helena-West Helena and not in Elaine, about 25 miles away.
“It’s the blood of so many citizens from the Elaine area that are really crying from the grave,” said protester William Quiney of the Elaine Legacy Center.
“All Helena has supplied was bodies and guns,” he said.
The memorial will be dedicated late next year on the 100th anniversary of the massacre.