Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Click the Link to View a Photo of the Crime Scene


What We Know: Facts about Isadore Banks's murder

1. Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967) June 26, 1954 Clipping

-Banks was wealthy, especially for a man of color in Arkansas at this time
-His body was discovered burned beyond recognition and chained to a tree
-Banks was missing since June 4th and remained missing for over a week.
-Only could be IDed by personal effects
-Truck found short distance away, it had been run till battery died
-Coroner T.H. McGough speculated gasoline was used to burn him
-Notably, his shoes remained on his feet and were still laced
-According to Bank’s wife, he disappeared after he went to pay his employees
-Banks owned almost 1,000 acres.
-Many whites coveted his land and paper speculates this was the cause of his murder
-The paper also speculates that Banks had been involved with several mistresses and thus had incurred the wrath of white men.
-Banks was heavy set, close to 300 pounds, more than one man likely participated in his murder
-Banks was not likely killed where he was found..no evidence of struggle at location.
-Banks had a loaded shotgun in his car, it was unfired suggesting he knew or trusted his assailants.
-He may also have been ambushed-He may have been dead before he was burned
-It was speculated that Banks may have been having an affair with a white woman and thus became a target. However this, as well as any other motive was not further investigated. The case seemed to evaporate into thin air.

Bend but not Break: The Racial Tension of 1950's Arkansas

In June 1954, Isadore Banks was found dead in the woods of Critten County, Arkansas. His body was badly burned and chained to a tree. Banks, a black man, was one of the many victims of America’s rough and violent journey through the Civil Rights movement. While his murderers were never brought to justice, it is believed that Banks was killed because he refused to turn over the land that he rightfully owned to white men. In present day America, racism still exists. However, thanks in part to the men and women who lost their lives during the Civil Rights movement, racial killings are far less frequent. Before one can properly understand why lynchings of this nature occurred, one must examine the environment in which they took place.
Arkansas was proving to be one of, if not the most, progressive southern states in regards to civil rights. In the same year that Banks was murdered, the segregation of schools was deemed to be illegal by the Supreme Court due to the Brown vs. Board of Education case. Arkansas desegregated two school districts while Texas desegregated one. These were the only three southern school districts to be integrated. On the collegiate level, Arkansas was even more progressive. Roughly 50% of the University of Arkansas’s Graduate Center was black.
“From the mid-forties to the mid-fifites, blacks in Little Rock made dramatic gains. Some blacks had been allowed to join the police force, and in a few neighborhoods blacks and whites lived next door to one another. In contrast to their counterparts in most southern states, 33% of all eligible Arkansas blacks were registered to vote. The library, parks, and public buses had all been integrated, and in 1955 white schools seemed ready to open their doors to blacks.”
-Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years 1954-1965, by Juan Williams
As the South prepared to face the sweeping changes that the dawning Civil Rights movement promised, it would appear that Arkansas would have a relatively smooth transition. Perhaps it was the progress that the state had already made that led to the hostile environment that defined the era. Like the rest of the South, Arkansas was not completely on board with racial equality. Despite white publications such as the Arkansas Gazette, endorsing desegregation, the state as a whole required a gradual shift towards equality. The Little Rock Phase Program was developed by the city’s board of education. The goal of the program was to slowly integrate black children into the white schools.
“Since our school system has been segregated from its beginning until the present time, the time required in the process as outlined should not be construed as unnecessary delay but that which is justly needed with respect to the size and complexity of the job at hand.”
-School Board Official
The caution of the board was well founded. Equality between whites and blacks promised to be a major life change for white southerners. As documented throughout the era, blacks refusing to concede lower status to whites were often met with violence and hostility. Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to sit in a “colored only” section of a bus. Several blacks who insisted on dining at a lunch counter meant only for whites were beaten and battered. At best, the South was willing to bend but not break. Despite the NAACP’s protests, the Little Rock Board of Education understood that an immediate and total desegregation of all the schools in its jurisdiction would be asking too much of an already disgruntled white community. The threat of civil unrest was so great, that in early 1956 a poll determined that 85% of Arkansas citizens opposed desegregating schools.
While Isadore Banks was not killed over the integration of schools, the divide between the blacks and whites is relevant to the case. In the eyes of the whites who were not yet ready to give up a segregated lifestyle, a black man having the power and authority to own his own land and employ his own workers was too much to accept. It was not uncommon for Arkansas blacks to continue working plantations owned by whites. Obviously they were now paid, but the power and social levels remained intact. Banks reportedly received numerous offers for his land. He refused to sell. His murder is clearly related to the civil unrest of the state (and the South) as a whole. Just as soldiers were needed to escort the Little Rock Nine to their first day of classes, Banks faced threats of violence due to his economic standing. Banks died at the very dawn of the Civil Rights movement. Whites, who were prepared to bend but not break, were now being forced to “break.”

Isadore Banks: Not a Household Name

The treatment of African Americans during the Civil Rights Era has been well documented. Names such as Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks register with the majority of Americans. Their stories are taught to young children in grade school. However, there are black men and woman who paid the ultimate price during this time period. They do not have national holidays in their honor. They are not wide known symbols of equality. These men and women are civil rights murder victims. Their killers have yet to be brought to justice. It is unlikely that they ever will.
One such victim is a man named Isadore Banks. Banks lived in Marion Arkansas (Crittenden County). As a land owner and employer of several workers, he found himself the target of much criticism by his white neighbors. Despite Arkansas’s relative progressive attitudes on breaking down the barriers between whites and blacks in the South and the fact that Banks had several white friends and colleagues, Banks became the victim of a heinous murder. His body found chained to a tree, Banks had been beaten and then burned. This murder occurred 55 years ago next month. No one has been brought to justice.