Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Murder Of Jesse Washington

In 1916 America was a dangerous place for African-Americans. The civil rights movement was still more than 40 years away, and Blacks were still thought of as second class citizens, who's lives were relegated to inhumanity, servitude, and the whim of the white American collective.
This week, May. 15, 2013 marks the 97th anniversary of the savage murder of Jesse Washington. Most of us have never heard of Jesse Washington, but once you read in gory detail how he was tried executed and then desecrated    you will never forget him.

Jessie Washington was an African American farmhand from Waco, Texas. On May 15, 1916, after being convicted of the murder of a local woman, he was lynched by a White mob, in an incident known as the Waco Horror.

The mutilation and burning of 17-year-old Washington received perhaps the greatest notoriety of the 492 lynchings that occurred in Texas between 1882 and 1930.

Jesse was arrested on May 8, 1916, and charged with having bludgeoned to death Lucy Fryer (53), the wife of a white farmer in Robinson, Texas, a small community seven miles south of Waco. After confessing to both rape and murder, Washington was transferred to the Dallas County Jail by McLennan County sheriff Samuel S. Fleming.

Washington's trial began in Waco on May 15 in the Fifty-fourth District Court, with Judge Richard I. Munroe presiding over a full courtroom. After hearing the evidence, a jury of 12 white men deliberated for only four minutes before returning a guilty verdict and assessing the death penalty.

Before law enforcement officers could remove Jesse from the court, 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 people waited in an alley. A chain was wrapped around Jesses'neck before he was dragged toward City Hall, where another group of vigilantes had gathered to build a bonfire.

(A postcard showing the burned body of Jesse Washington was printed. This image is from a postcard, which said on the back, "This is the barbecue we had last night. My picture is to the left with a cross over it. Your son, Joe.")Upon reaching the city hall grounds, the leaders of the mob threw Washington 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 the limb of a tree, and several men lowered his body onto the pile of combustibles and set him on fire. 

An observer wrote.

"Washington was beaten with shovels and bricks. One man castrated him and and anothet cut his ears off. A tree supported the iron chain that lifted him above the fire. Wailing, the boy attempted to climb up the skillet hot chain. For this, the men cut off his fingers."

It has also been report that some of Washington's toes were cut off, and sold as souvenirs.

Two hours later, some 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 mob were prosecuted. However, the foreman of Washington's jury criticized local law officers for failing to prevent the lynching, and a special committee of Baylor University faculty passed resolutions denouncing mobs.

A. T. Smith, an African American journalist, 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.

American has come a long way, and still has a long way to go. But it is definitely a blessing to be Black in 2013 instead on 1916. What we do with that blessing, and how we utilize the opportunities that are a benefit of  being on the right side of history is up to us.


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