Public acknowledgements of racist violence ensure that stories like Henry Choate’s are part of our collective memory
Perspective by Travis Patterson
Travis Patterson is PhD candidate and instructor in the department of history at the University of Mississippi. His dissertation explores the memory of the 1934 Claude Neal lynching, which took place in Jackson County, Fla.
July 26, 2023 at 8:00 a.m. EDT
Fierce criticism has erupted over the music video for country singer Jason Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town.” Liberals have decried the song’s vigilante themes, especially in light of where the video was shot. The lyrics describe a variety of crimes and unpatriotic or disrespectful behavior and promise: “Well, try that in a small town, see how far ya make it down the road. Around here, we take care of our own, you cross that line, it won’t take long.” The video was filmed at the Maury County Courthouse in Tennessee — the site of the lynching of Henry Choate, an 18-year-old Black man accused of assaulting a White woman in 1927.
The incident exposes the dangers of selectively remembering and memorializing our past. The lynching of Choate is well known among Black Tennesseeans, but the story never received proper public commemoration and is not well known nationally. That has helped fuel the battle over “Try That in a Small Town,” as the story spills over into the mainstream conversation. Properly acknowledging the history of lynching with official memorials and historical markers in public spaces would prevent the sort of blind spot that has produced this fiery debate.