May 16, 2022

Report: Library of Congress Changes Reference to 1919 Arkansas Racial Violence to ‘Elaine Massacre’

From the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

A change at the Library of Congress to use “Elaine Massacre” as a research subject heading more accurately describes the racially-motivated killings of Black residents in 1919, historians and descendants said.

The library, which describes itself as the world’s largest, previously used “Elaine Race Riot” as its main subject heading for materials related to the violence committed by white mobs in eastern Arkansas.


The Library of Congress in 2007 first established the previous subject heading, “Elaine Race Riot, Elaine, Ark., 1919,” spokesman Bill Ryan said.

“In naming an event, one of the fundamental principles that the Library of Congress uses is to call a thing by the name by which it is most commonly recognized,” Ryan said in an email.

The change comes after a formal proposal submitted last year by the University of Oklahoma, but Duncan-Daniel noted efforts by many to shift the language used to describe the violence.

She recalled having conversations back around 2007 with historians and other descendants in which they used the term “massacre” rather than the once-common “race riot.” Duncan-Daniel said she was born near Elaine, but left as a teenager and lived in Nevada before returning to Arkansas in 2006.

“The name change was our perspective on the event, because we have been minimized enough,” Duncan-Daniel said. Using the term “massacre” is “one of the ways that we’re starting to take back control of our narrative,” she added.


Jenny Watson, head of storage and delivery for University of Oklahoma libraries, said in an email that a Metadata Justice working group at the university earlier had successfully requested that the Library of Congress use “Tulsa Race Massacre” as a subject heading rather than “Tulsa Race Riot.”

“Elaine Race Riot” remains as a cross-reference in the Library of Congress catalog, Ryan, the library spokesman, said. An online search of the Library of Congress site also shows the “race riot” term in descriptions used for many of the library’s holdings relating to the massacre.

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About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.