Tom Smith’s book “The Crescent City Lynchings: The Murder of Chief Hennessy, the New Orleans “Mafia” Trials, and the Parish Prison Mob” is about the some past violent and related events back in 1800. The events took place in New Orleans.
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In 1980’s New Orleans was a different place than it’s now, lawlessness was normal, government, police and politicians were corrupt. The narrative style in the book is like novel with well-crafted characters and dialogues are clear, in flow, coherent and extracted from historical event and compiled together to make it very interesting and entertaining.
The novel starts with a brutal murder. The head of the police in New Orleans, Chief Hennessy, is gunned down to death while he was on his way to home. However, when asked who did this murder he just uttered “Italians”. People from diverse culture and ethnic groups, Irish, Italians, Whites and Blacks resided in the New Orleans. Injustice was common and everyone was subject to it. Power and money was the authority, hence, unfairness, inequality and ill-treatment of discriminated people was very common.
After the Chief Hennessy is murdered, it resulted in sequence of violent events. As now police needed to catch the culprits and punish them they started terrorizing Italian people, because chief had uttered words of “Italian” before dieing. Total lawlessness and racial intolerance resulted in deaths of several innocent Italians. Italians were captured by the police, brutally beaten and abused and were executed by lynching. All Italians were threatened of their life and were unsure of what will happen to anyone anytime.
Italian immigrants were executed in court for criminal trials. At least 19 Italians were brought to court for trial, however, 11 of them were lynched. This was first time ever the largest mass lynching in US and in history captured worldwide attention. This caused great differences and tension between Italy and US.
The reading the book related to the course about racial intolerance, injustice, lawlessness and inequality for the minority. Racial discrimination against minority group is common and still persists.
Anti-Italian mass lynching introduced word “Mafia” to Americans, though it was not common before.
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“Hennessy could see a figure across the street, a block distant, but paid him little mind. It looked like J. C. Roe, the Boylan security officer detailed to watch his house. Hennessy didn’t care much about the added protection. He didn’t need one of his men or friends to walk home with him every night. Sure he had enemies—any chief of police had more than a human share—but he was safe enough here. He knew most of his neighbors, at least by sight, and after all, remembering faces was part of his business.
He felt the bullets before he heard them. Cuts in his face and arm stung, as a deeper pain tossed him off balance and crackled along his ribs. Hennessy grabbed his Colt from his waistcoat. The walls of the buildings around him shuddered as he turned toward the flashes. Losing his breath, he hurried to the corner, firing back at the dark figures coming for him….” (Smith)
With his carefully crafted dialogues he was able to present the picture of 1890 to current readers. He pictured the life events of the chief Hennessy clearly & vividly and gave detailed account of his mysterious death.
”O’Connor looked down the dilapidated Basin Street sidewalk toward the center of the city. Hennessy sat alone on a doorstep, bleeding from his face, hands, and legs. The left side of his coat was ripped into a dark red tangle and his Colt hung from his hand, the pearl grips smeared with blood. “They gave it to me, but I gave ’em back the best I could.”” (Smith)
A very detailed examination of the crime and the consequent events are very clearly described. He even described the murder scene in details. These related events led to brutal mass lynching of Italians and stigma on them. The aftermath was very sensational, as the Hennessy’s murder case was very sensitive because he was very reputable Irish officer. We learned that how power and authority of atrocious ruins peace of normal people. Racial intolerance of other nations and ethnic groups lead to hatred and differences among people in every place.
While reading the book first of all I amazed at the brutality Italians suffered at the hands of government and police. Secondly, I am of the opinion that he has researched it authentic sources hence the information provided is true.
Smith has researched all the facts deeply and then compiled these events in the form of a book. He gave credit to several libraries which means he very well-researched the facts before writing it. We may learn many lessons from reading of this book and apply in today’s world.
The Crescent City Lynchings: The murder of chief Hennessy, the New Orleans “mafia” Trials, and the Parish Prison Mob. ISBN: 1-59228-901-0 The Lyons Press