On The Laps of Gods Book Review (2020)

Robert Whitaker, On the Laps of Gods: The Red Summer of 1919 and the Struggle for Justice That Remade a Nation. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2009. Pp. 1-386.

The Elaine Massacre during the Red Summer of 1919 is considered one of the most horrific massacres in U.S. history. Furthermore, 101 years later, the details and factual accounts of all that happened that day are still contested and controversial. Historians have attempted to retell the story from what happened and how the United States was forever affected.
On the Laps of Gods: The Red Summer of 1919 and the Struggle for Justice That Remade a Nation by Robert Whitaker recounts this dark and horrific moment in American history.

Unimaginable pain and injustices were inflicted on innocent citizens, mainly African American and African American veterans, based on racism, Jim Crow, and oppressive laws. The horrifying injustices broadcasted from Hoop Spur, Arkansas, informed the community and the world that being black in rural America held severe consequences whether on or not on the right side of the land laws. Ultimately, the events before and after the Elaine Massacre shaped the Civil Rights movements of the 50s, 60s to the present.

Known as a journalist and writer, Whitaker has authored five books that delve into history, medicine, and the mind. Whitaker tells the story of the Elaine Massacre and its injustices from both historical and psychological perspectives. In essence, he provides visual and mental images of what happened while also providing an inside view of the nation’s culture at this point in history.


Credit: Arkansas Week Special Edition Epsidode on the Elaine Massacre (Courtesy of YouTube)

In support of his literary account and relation to his profession, the book features graphics, pictures, and newspaper clippings that provide context to the lives and stories of those that were gravely affected by the morally criminal events of the Elaine Massacre. Throughout the eighteen chapters plus epilogue, Whitaker details the events such as the union meeting before the massacre, the aftermath of what the massacre represented for the nation, the liberties touted by a governmental system that were not in support of aiding southern blacks to the triumphant success of the U.S. Supreme ruling.


Nevertheless, retelling the story in its rawest form validates the experience of the murdered. Also, it validates the accused and those in favor of aiding change. The subtitle details of history have taught us concerning the voiceless that Whitaker highlights and creates a dialogue. Such examples include the accused farmers that were eventually freed based on the landmark Moore vs. Dempsey court decision and the life and legacy of the hidden figure Scipio Africanus Jones, who was lost to gentrified history

Overall, Whitaker’s book is a comprehensive collection of stories about the lengths people went to protect comforts and a way of life bursting at the seams for change. The legacy of lives lost and their descendants that were forever changed from the Elaine Massacre will continue at the forefront of discussion and commemoration. Whitaker’s work and other historians and contributors present that despite obstacles, whether politically or socially, the history of the Red Summer of 1919 continues to release more hidden figures and testimonies from the shadows.

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