Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A 1916 lynching in Waco Texas



Texas State Historical Association: JESSE WASHINGTON LYNCHING. Of the 492 lynchings that occurred in Texas between 1882 and 1930, the incident that perhaps received the greatest notoriety, both statewide and nationally, was the mutilation and burning of an illiterate seventeen-year-old black farmhand named Jesse Washington by a white mob in Waco, Texas, on May 15, 1916-an event sometimes dubbed the "Waco Horror." Washington was arrested on May 8, 1916, and charged with bludgeoning to death fifty-three-year-old Lucy Fryer, the wife of a white farmer in Robinson, a small community seven miles south of Waco. After confessing that he had both raped and murdered Mrs. Fryer, Washington was transferred to the Dallas County Jail by McLennan county sheriff Samuel S. Fleming, who hoped to prevent mob action at least until the accused could have his day in court.

Washington's trial began in Waco on May 15, in the Fifty-fourth District Court, with Judge Richard I. Munroe presiding over a courtroom filled to capacity. After hearing the evidence, a jury of twelve white men deliberated for only four minutes before returning a guilty verdict against the defendant and assessing the death penalty. Before law officers could remove Washington from the courtroom, a group of white spectators surged forward and seized the convicted youth. They hurried him down the stairs at the rear of the courthouse, where a crowd of about 400 persons waited in the alley. A chain was thrown around Washington's neck, and he was dragged toward the City Hall, where another group of vigilantes had gathered to build a bonfire.

Jesse Washington's fingers were amputated for souvenirs and his fingernails taken for keepsakes. Finally all that was left was a charred torso, but Washington’s body parts were put in a bag so they could be dragged through downtown.
Upon reaching the city hall grounds, the leaders of the mob threw their victim onto a pile of dry-goods boxes under a tree and poured coal oil over his body. The chain around Washington's neck was thrown over a limb of the tree, and several men joined to jerk him into the air before lowering his body onto the pile of combustibles and igniting a fire. Two hours later several men placed the burned corpse in a cloth bag and pulled the bundle behind an automobile to Robinson, where they hung the sack from a pole in front of a blacksmith's shop for public viewing. Later that afternoon constable Les Stegall retrieved the remains and turned them over to a Waco undertaker for burial.

Though lynching violated Texas law, no members of the Waco mob were prosecuted. However, the foreman of the jury that convicted Washington criticised local law officers for failing to prevent the lynching, and a special committee of Baylor University faculty passed resolutions denouncing the mob. A black journalist, A. T. Smith, editor of the Paul Quinn Weekly, was arrested and convicted of criminal libel after he printed allegations that Lucy Fryer's husband had committed the murder. Other blacks in the Waco area condemned the Fryer killing and remained conciliatory toward the white population.

Onlookers with the Burned Body of Jesse Washington

Although the Nation, the New Republic, and the New York Times severely condemned the lynching, only a few Texas newspapers denounced the Waco mob. The Houston Post, Houston Express, Austin American, and San Antonio Express printed critical editorials, but the Dallas newspapers made few comments. The Waco Morning News expressed regret for the incident but resented the "wholesale denunciation of the South and of the people of Waco" by the national press. The most important demonstration of outrage emanated from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which launched a full-scale investigation of the affair and employed the incident as a cause célèbre in the organisation's crusade for a federal antilynching bill. A photographer's pictures of the lynching strengthened the argument. Although the American entrance into World War I delayed the NAACP campaign until 1919, the "Waco Horror" remained a vivid indication that though the frequency of lynchings had begun to decline in the United States after 1900, those incidents that still occurred often were characterised by extreme barbarity. (source: Texas State Historical Association)

In the Wake of a Lynching. The remains of Jesse Washington's body after his lynching, Waco, Texas, 15 May 1916.

Oxford African American Studies Center: Waco's mayor John Dollins and chief of police Guy McNamara watched the entire proceeding from the mayor's second-floor office in City Hall, and the town's most prominent commercial photographer, Fred Gildersleeve, took pictures through the windows. Gildersleeve had been forewarned of the lynching and had set up his equipment in the mayor's office ahead of time.

When Washington was dead, his charred remains were lassoed by a man on a white horse and dragged around the city. The head fell off and small boys sold the teeth for five dollars apiece. Pieces of the chain sold for twenty-five cents. Spectators even gathered and carried off pieces of charred bone and bits of the hanging tree to be kept as souvenirs or sold to others.

Although local authorities tried immediately to hush up the event and the town's leading newspaper wrote the day after the lynching that it was “a closed incident,” the reaction of the national public was widespread and overwhelming. Waco was roundly condemned by editorials in Texas newspapers and in newspapers all over the country. The New York Times dubbed the incident “the Waco Horror.” Progressive magazines like the Nation, the Independent, and the New Republic, as well as black newspapers like the New York Age and the Chicago Defender, compared the incident at Waco unfavorably to the exploits of Mexican bandits, to the Turkish extermination of Armenians, to the excesses of the French Revolution, and to acts of brutality committed by German soldiers in Belgium at the beginning of World War I. (source: Oxford African American Studies Center)


BBC's Racism: History- A lynching in Texas in 1916

15 comments:

  1. Ron:
    http://youtu.be/-TRbmxeQLiE

    http://www.ucl.ac.uk/history/history_news_pub/hall_minilecture

    http://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/staff/staff-ch

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  2. It is ashamed that Mr. Washington had to die the way he did. He did not deserve what those motherless Demons did to his body, his life, to his soul...With these photos Mr. Washington will never be forgotten...to his family, we as human beings are sorry for the senseless violence that he and most Black Americans had to endure during these waves of terror...These now dead Demons from Waco and all their brother and sister from the other hell holes called towns that stretch across America who...murdered innocents for the thrill of it well, it's just...Devilish... And I know all of those Demons who lynch and burn then mutilate and sell body parts for there sick pleasure well, it's just... barbaric; may all those murdering Demons and their spawned offspring burn and rot in Hell...

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  3. Hitler did not kill all those Jews, and others, without help. There is no one person upon whom this heinous last lynching in Texas can be pinned. We are all scarred by the tragedy of it. That the practice continued to include the victim, Emmett Till, in Mississippi in 1955, up to the disappearance and lynching of the three civil rights workers in the '60s, lynching is still an undercurrent of the extreme racism in the South. The Stand Your Ground Laws are just another disguise for it. The 16th Amendment to the Constitution sanctions slavery to this day with a preponderance of the arrested and convicted being minorities, put to work as convicts who are deprived of voting rights henceforth. The increasing incarcerations, for profit, while the crime rate drops is a stain on our nation and our democracy. These are depths from which the South will not rise again anytime soon.

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  4. Hide yo kids, hide yo wife, hide yo husband cause they rapin everybody out hur!!

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  5. While I detest the thought of slavery, and lynchings, I don't see how anyone could call the people of Waco motherless demons. Perhaps the person that made that statement missed the first paragraph that stated the young Mr. Washington confessed to the rape and bludgeoning death of a fifty three year old farmer's wife. Mr. Washington was anything but innocent.

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    1. Maybe you missed it this kid was mentally challenged or put it like this that kid would have confessed to anything he just didn't know what he was confessing to, you people are the problem always looking to justified heinous and unjust actions of those who committed these crimes.

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    2. how stupid and ignorant do you need to be? Of course he confessed -he was most likely abused and tortured by 'law' enforcement. Even today, 2016 they assume a person of color is guilty to whatever they are charged with. Never mind that those who are law enforcement are usually one-step removed from being a criminal element with a badge and gun. . . disgusting..

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  6. No human being deserves to be killed so inhumanely.

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  7. No human being deserves to be killed so inhumanely.

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    1. He shouldn't have died period. That slave owner lied but he'll have to face God one day and the truth will come out then

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    2. There was no slave owner in the whole ordeal so what exactly are you talking about. He was a paid worker who had worked for several different people in the town and had a reputation for being lazy and hard headed. He was found covered in blood and took the sheriffs to the weapon. Lucy Fryers husband was out working part of the farm almost a mile away from where she was murdered. How do I know this? Bc my great grandmother had to get him from the other side of the farm after she found her mother beaten to death with a hammer! What was done to him was a dispicable this, but he left my great great grandmother laying dead on the ground with most of her brain spilled out and that's pretty dispicable if you ask me!

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  8. He confessed? That means nothing. In the central park jogger case, 5 young boys, we're filmed, confessing and giving detailed accounts of the rape. Well, 5 year or so later, the truth came out. It was a Hispanic youth who was responsible. Semen matched. Those 5 kids knew nothing about the rape. They were coerced in the 80's to confess. Can you trust a sheriff and a mayor who led the team to secure the confession and then set up a cameraman to document the lynching?
    ISIS wasn't born yesterday! !!

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  9. @addowei....a mentally challenged 17 year old young man confessing to a crime he did not commit and back in those days many african americans weren't believed any way and was always found guilty the first moment someone white turns up dead the first person they will blame is the black person who worked(slaved) for them no matter what a black man or woman had to say or how innocent they were they still got lynched for crimes they didnt commit....

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    Replies
    1. I couldn't have said it better myself

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    2. When are we going to see the left overs of the bodies of white Americans after blacks have finished getting their jollies off with them? In this day, in this time, in this hour in this moment when today's blacks are mutilating whites in a far worse fashion than the picture above.

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