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Book Review: The Crescent City Lynchings by Tom Smith

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Tom Smith’s latest book, The Crescent City Lynchings, transports the reader back to the late 1800s. The action takes place in New Orleans and is a factual account of three separate and yet related violent events.

New Orleans in the 1890s was very different from the Big Easy that we know today. Corrupt politicians and policeman were the norm, lawlessness was the law!

Although this is a factual accounting of the events, Smith has written the book more like a novel than a history. This makes for a very entertaining read. The characters are well-crafted, and the dialog is cleverly pieced together from historical documentation.

The book opens with the violent death of Chief Hennessy, the head of the New Orleans police force. He is gunned down while walking home. Before he dies he utters the word “Italians” when asked “who did this”?

New Orleans in the 1890s was a polarized city. Each ethnic group distrusted the others: blacks, whites, Irish, and Italian all harbored grudges for perceived injustices. In many cases the grudges were well-founded.

Chief Hennessy’s brutal murder starts an unfortunate and deadly sequence of events. The New Orleans police need to find a culprit, and based on Chief Hennessy’s dying words, proceeds to terrorize the Italian population.

Being Italian, or even worse Sicilian, becomes very dangerous. Of course they are not as pure as the driven snow; some belong to very shady organizations linked to the mafia. Unfortunately, many innocent Italians are swept up in the fervor to find the killer. And many find themselves spending less than quality time in the Parish Prison.

The Crescent City Lynchings is a superb study in racial intolerance. It culminates in the unlawful lynching of 11 Italian immigrants. No due process, no trial by your peers, just a rope around your neck!

This is a very well-written and researched book. The foreword gives credit to some librarians in 1989, and based on that fact it is clear that Tom Smith has spent many years creating this wonderful book. Although the subject may seem very niche, there is much that can be gained from reading it, and applying the lessons learned to today’s society.

Tom has agreed to an interview, and I am looking forward to finding out more about the dark, murky and lurid past of New Orleans. If you are a history buff, or just enjoy a really great book, I recommend that you pick up a copy of The Crescent City Lynchings.

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About Simon Barrett

  • This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net, which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States. Nice work!