Reconnaissance Survey of Selected Civil Rights Sites in Phillips County, Arkansas
The National Park Service (NPS) has completed a preliminary survey of civil rights sites in Phillips County, Arkansas. The survey was undertaken in response to a request from Arkansas's 1st District Representative Rick Crawford in July 2018; it has been finalized and transmitted to Representative Crawford. The reconnaissance survey focuses on the Centennial Baptist Church and Phillips County Courthouse in Helena-West Helena, and the suspected site of the Hoop Spur Church in Elaine. The results of the survey are briefly noted below, and more detail can be found in the complete document by clicking on the 'Document List' tab at left.
Centennial Baptist Church was led by Rev. Elias Camp "E.C." Morris, DD, PhD., from 1879 until shortly before his death in 1922. Morris was the president of the National Baptist Convention and a nationally known African American leader. The Centennial Baptist Church, built in 1905, has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is currently vacant.
The Hoop Spur Church is no longer standing, and the original site has not been conclusively determined. The Elaine Massacre of 1919, which erupted after a shootout at the Hoop Spur Church, wrought death and devastation and led to the murder conviction of 12 men in trials at the Phillips County Courthouse that have since been deemed to be clearly unjust. The US Supreme Court ruled on the appeal of some of those cases in "Moore v. Dempsey" (1923), which became a landmark habeas corpus ruling. The Phillips County Courthouse is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and still in active use.
A reconnaissance survey provides a preliminary evaluation of whether a site could meet Congressionally established criteria for inclusion in the national park system. Reconnaissance surveys examine the issues of national significance, suitability, feasibility, and level of NPS management required, and determine if further evaluation through a special resource study is warranted.
This reconnaissance survey finds that the Centennial Baptist Church and the Phillips County Courthouse may meet the criteria for inclusion in the national park system if fully examined, and recommends that a special resource study of those sites be authorized. The Hoop Spur Church location and other sites potentially connected to the Elaine Massacre are in need of more research and documentation before a special resource study would be appropriate.
(Please note that after the survey was written, a storm struck Helena-West Helena on April 12, 2020, significantly damaging Centennial Baptist Church. Neither the impacts of the storm nor any ongoing stabilization/preservation efforts are captured in this document, due to the timing of publication and reviews.)
The role of the NPS in studying the sites has concluded at this point. The NPS encourages all stakeholders to work together in continuing to tell the stories and preserving the resources described in the survey. Any further study of these or related sites would have to be authorized by Congress before the NPS could undertake new work.
Thank you for your interest in the Reconnaissance Survey of Selected Civil Rights Sites in Phillips County, Arkansas.
Planning and Compliance Division
DOI Regions 3, 4, & 5