In the nearly two decades she’s been going to Elaine, a town of about 556 not far from Helena, Fayetteville native Pat Kienzle has undertaken projects that range from developing a community center to raising funds for a newly opened civil rights park dedicated to the memory of the 1919 Elaine massacre. But the reason Kienzle keeps coming back has never changed: There’s always more to do
ON HOW SHE CAME TO ELAINE: I spend about a week every month here. Coming from the wealthiest part of the state to Elaine—if I didn’t know it, I would have thought I had gone to a different country. Now other people might not feel that way, but it was such a shock to me. Economically, it’s a disaster right now. At the community center, we have a housekeeping center and a Lego center and a train center. In the middle, we have tables for art and tutoring. And then we have an area for storytelling and movies. Oh! And a pingpong table. The first night we held a parenting program at the center, children came even though they didn’t have parents with them. If the school door was open, the children came.
ON WHAT KEEPS HER UP AT NIGHT: Funding. How are we going to get the money? We still have a little money designated for the park, but for our general fund, how do we operate the community center? How do we pay the bills for this building? How do we hire a site manager? I don’t know.
ON BEING A BRIDGE FOR HISTORY: The oldest generation will not accept the fact that the massacre* really happened—not that it happened in the real way. They will say “five white people were killed and maybe 20 or 30 black people.” And we are not here, in our group, to cause a conflict with them. I used the word today when I was writing something: We are a bridge or a stepping stone into this history.
ON HER LOFTIEST DREAMS FOR THE TOWN: Oooooooh. We would have the community center open every day after school except Friday. And we would have to designate what grade level of children came. If you get 30 children in there, you can’t accomplish a lot, and we often have 30 or 40 children. Friday nights would be family-activity nights. And our dreaaaaaaam would be to actually have the parents come to the center. —As told to Jordan P. Hickey
*Editor’s Note: Estimates vary, but as Robert Whitaker writes in his book, On the Laps of Gods, “a very conservative estimate today would put the number of blacks killed at well over 100, and perhaps the real toll was two or three times that many.”