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Jesse WASHINGTON

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Juvenile (17)
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: May 8, 1916
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1899
Victim profile: Lucy Frier, 53
Method of murder: Bludgeoned to death
Location: Waco, Texas, USA
Status: Lynched (mutilation and burning) by a White American mob, an incident known as the Waco Horror, on May 15, 1916
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Jesse 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 American mob, 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.

Arrest and trial

Washington was arrested on May 8, 1916, 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 officers could remove Washington 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 persons waited in the alley. A chain was thrown around Washington's neck before he was dragged toward the City Hall, where another group of vigilantes had gathered to build a bonfire.

Lynch mob

A postcard showing the burned body of Jesse Washington, Waco, Texas, 1916. 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 a limb of the tree, and several men lowered his body onto the pile of combustibles and ignited a fire. An observer wrote:

"Washington was beaten with shovels and bricks (...) was castrated, and his ears were cut 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."

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.

Press coverage

While the The Nation, The New Republic and The New York Times condemned the lynching, only a few Texan 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 what it called the "wholesale denunciation of the South and 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 organization's crusade for a federal antilynching bill. A photographer's pictures of the lynching strengthened the argument.

References

  • Charles F. Kellogg, NAACP: A History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1967).

  • Rogers M. Smith, The Waco Lynching of 1916 (M.A. thesis, Baylor University, 1971).

  • James M. SoRelle, "The `Waco Horror': The Lynching of Jesse Washington," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 86 (April 1983).

  • Robert L. Zangrando, The NAACP Crusade Against Lynching (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980).

Wikipedia

 
 

Waco Recalls a 90-Year-Old 'Horror'

by Wade Goodwyn - NPR.org

May 13, 2006

On Monday, a small interracial organization will meet on the steps of the Waco Texas courthouse to read a resolution condemning and apologizing for the lynching of 17-year-old Jesse Washington.

Washington’s lynching 90 years ago was so astonishingly brutal that the incident became known nationally as the "Waco Horror."

The Waco Interracial Coalition is forcing Waco to confront some of its painful history and there are many in this city of 200,000 who have no interest in apologizing for something that happened 90 years ago.

"It's a very ugly part of history," says Ray Meadows, a Waco county commissioner. "I regret that it happened, but as far as me coming out to apologize…I didn't have anything to do with it."

A Murder, Followed by a Lynching

Around sundown of May 8, 1916, Lucy Fryer, the wife of a well regarded cotton farmer, was found bludgeoned to death in the doorway of her seed house. Jesse Washington, who was illiterate and branded "feeble-minded", confessed to the murder.

Soon after a jury found him guilty, a crowd of 2,000 men seized Washington, chained him, beat him and dragged him to the town square, where he was burned.

His 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.

A Story in Search of an End

"I had been hearing about it all of my life," says Lester Gibson, the only African-American county commissioner in Waco. "It's a wound that has not healed in the mindset of the African-American community. It's going to continue to be passed on from generation to generation. I think that the only thing that can basically bring McLennan County together is some reconciliation of the matter."

Monday at 11 a.m., the precise moment Jesse Washington was seized in the courtroom, the Waco interracial coalition will announce their regret for Washington’s murder. Later in the week, the county commissioners and the city council will debate whether they should make any official statement.

 
 

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.

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 criticized 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.

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 organization'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 characterized by extreme barbarity.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Charles F. Kellogg, NAACP: A History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1967). Rogers M. Smith, The Waco Lynching of 1916 (M.A. thesis, Baylor University, 1971). James M. SoRelle, "The `Waco Horror': The Lynching of Jesse Washington," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 86 (April 1983). Robert L. Zangrando, The NAACP Crusade Against Lynching (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980).

James M. SoRelle

 

 

 
 
 
 
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