‘Never Again’: Community Reflects on Lynching 115 Years Later

Family of Ted Smith

First and second cousins of Ted Smith attended his memorial service at the Hunt County Court House on July 28, 2023.

Faith, justice, civil rights leaders gather in Greenville to honor the memory of Ted Smith

“Those that don’t remember are doomed to repeat.”

That phrase was stated several times during the memorial ceremony for Ted Smith, who was lynched July 28, 1908 — 115 years to the day — in Greenville, Texas.

Smith, an 18-year-old Black man, was accused of raping a white woman, arrested and placed in the Greenville Jail. The next morning a mob of white men pulled Smith from his cell, dragged him into the town square, doused him in kerosene and burned him alive in front of as many as 2,500 onlookers.

No one was punished for the lynching.

“I had heard of Ted Smith’s death, but the first time I read it, it was the most horrific thing I ever read. I had to stop halfway through because I felt an overpowering surge of anger,” said Rev. Dr. Ronald D. Henderson, director of diversity, equity and inclusion for the North Texas Conference, during the service.

“Was he scared? Angry? What was he feeling when they poured kerosene on him? I hope God gave him a sense of peace.”

Henderson challenged the crowd to not stay silent if they see inequality and injustice.

“I am not convinced there are not evil forces in the world who would do to us what they did to Ted Smith,” he said.

Amen was often shouted by the crowd of 80 people in response to Henderson’s words.

The ceremony was held in the 196th Judicial Court Room in the Hunt County Court House and was hosted by the Corporation for Cultural Diversity, in partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), NAACP Greenville Chapter and the Greenville Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance.

Two proclamations were read, and Smith’s family members were presented with a plaque from the EJI Project that reads: “Mr. Ted Smith, an Afro-American, was denied legal rights and ‘due process’ by the local justice system. He experienced an untimely and unjustified death in 1908 by a local riotous mob. We stand for Justice, NEVER AGAIN!”

The EJI runs the Soil Collection Project, which gathers soil from lynching sites and places it in jars bearing the victims’ names. Smith’s jar will join the 800 other jars on display at EJI’s headquarters in Montgomery, Ala. One of Smith’s jars will remain in Greenville, along with the jars of Thomas Peddy and George Lindley, who were previously honored.

“Today we gather here to erect a monument with etched words on a durable iron plate that give witness to the atrocity that happened here in 1908 to Ted Smith,” said Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. of the North Texas Conference. “This monument also represents more than 4,400 African American men, women and children who suffered brutal fates from white mobs between 1877 and 1956 — they were hung, burned alive, shot, drowned or beaten to death.

“On the one hand, this monument reshapes Ted Smith’s horrifying experience into a lasting message about our dangerous capacity to commit horrifying acts of inhumanity. On the other hand, it also serves as a reminder to strive for understanding and peace and to resist the injustice and oppression of racism and bigotry in whatever form they present themselves.”

Eight members of Smith’s family attended the ceremony, including Audry Ashford Rester, whose mother is Smith’s first cousin.

“A lot of family didn’t want to come because they didn’t want to rehash this horrific thing that happened to him,” she said. “When I did research, I cried. When I talked to my mother, she cried. She cried today.”

Published: Tuesday, August 8, 2023