Honor, Supremacy, and the Lynching of Henry Smith
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This study illustrates the past realities of extralegal violence through the unique story of Henry Smith, an African-American brutally lynched in Paris, Texas during the 1890s. Through an examination of primary documents – newspaper articles, photographs, eyewitness testimonies, etc. – and secondary literature, the author will reconstruct an event in Texas’ history that has remained, for the most part, unexplored by the greater historical community. One’s purpose in so doing is to shed light on the shadowed history of lynching in the postbellum South, keeping in mind the unique elements of East Texas’ economic, political, and social climates before, during, and after Henry Smith’s murder.
The goal is to situate the specific events surrounding Henry Smith’s execution within the more general realm of U.S. history in the wake of Reconstruction, but at the same time, illustrate fully the localized nuances that fostered this violent spectacle. Hence, the author’s aim is not to re-write the master narrative, per se. Rather, this is an attempt to enhance the reader’s historical perspective, placing Henry Smith’s story against the backdrop of lynching in American memory. The ultimate objective is to address – at least in part – these questions: What conditions justified racialized public lynching in the postbellum South? And how, if at all, may we reconcile with this chapter of history?