The Crescent City Lynchings: Reconstructing the 1891 New Orleans Lynching

Tom Smith

After a sensational trial, eleven Italian Americans acquitted in the murder of New Orleans police chief David Hennessy were killed in the largest group lynching in American history. The 1891 incident caused an international diplomatic conflict, heightened the association of the word “mafia” with Italian immigrants, and remains one of the most traumatic episodes in Italian-American history. Initially, Hennessy was described as a victim of murderous Italian thugs. Recent scholarship, instead, has redefined the accused as victims of a wide-spread government conspiracy to expel the city’s Italian immigrants who were perceived as an economic and political threat. Tom Smith, author of The Crescent City Lynchings: The Murder of Chief Hennessy, the New Orleans “Mafia” Trials, and the Parish Prison Mob (Lyons Press, 2007), will explore the contending historical views of this lynching and to establish a narrative of politics, racism, and violence.