Ten thousand people gathered to watch the lynching of Henry Smith in Paris, Texas, on February 1, 1893. (© CORBIS.)

History of Racial Injustice: Racial Terror Lynchings

Racial terror lynchings during the period from 1877 to 1950 killed thousands of black people, marginalized people of color politically, economically, and socially, and fueled a massive migration of black refugees out of the South. In addition, lynching and the era of racial terror inflicted deep trauma and psychic wounds on survivors, families, and entire communities.

In 1893, 17-year-old Henry Smith, who was black, was accused of killing a three-year-old white girl in Paris, Texas. On February 1, a mob of 10,000 white people gathered from across the state to watch as Henry was paraded through town on a carnival float, forced onto a ten-foot-high platform at the county fairgrounds, brutally tortured for nearly an hour, and then burned alive.

In 1920, brothers Irving and Herman Arthur were lynched after deciding to leave their jobs at a white-owned farm in Paris, Texas, in search of better working conditions. The farm owner had them arrested and jailed and, on July 6, 1920, a mob of 3000 watched as they were tied to a flagpole at the fairgrounds, tortured, and burned to death.  

Today, Paris is a small city of 25,000 people. No historical marker documents the infamous lynchings that occurred there, but a large Confederate memorial stands on the courthouse lawn.