Waco Texas lynching “Waco Horror”
A postcard commemorating the lynching; written 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 [Myers].”
A Fred Gildersleeve image of the lynching of Jesse Washington.
Newspaper describing the lynching
Backstory and Context
May 15, 1916 in Waco, Texas Jesse Washington, a seventeen year old farmhand, confessed to the rape and murder of Lucy Fryer. After the confession to his brutal crime, in an effort to protect him from the townspeople and to lessen the chance of a riot, local sheriff had Jesse Washington transferred to a Dallas county jail while he awaited trial.
The trial lasted one day, and the jury of twelve white men handed down a guilty verdict, accompanied by a death sentence, in less than four minutes. The court's punishment wasn’t swift or harsh enough for the local populace, and courtroom spectators took the matter into their own hands. The courtroom officials attempted to remove Jesse from the room, but the fervor and numbers of the crowd outweighed their efforts. He was dragged out of the back of the courtroom where a mob of over two hundred were waiting. They chained his neck, and forced him to a city hall amphitheater where another zealous mob group had started a bonfire.
Once they arrived the enormous mob threw Jesse Washington to the ground and began pouring coal oil over him. Using the other end of the chain wrapped around his neck they hoisted him by his neck over a tree where members of grotesque crowd cut off fingers, toes, and his genitals as he hung. They refused to throw him into the fire and end his life quickly, but rather raise him up and down into the fire to give him a long, drawn out, and excruciating death above the bonfire. He was described as attempting to climb up the chain, but was unable due to his lack of fingers.After the fire died down some of the more morbid bystanders, including children, collected “souvenirs” such as his teeth, genitalia, links of the chain, and bone. Some to sell and some to keep. During this brutal torture and lynching, merchants sold beverages and food while people sang songs. The amount of witnesses was estimated to be around fifteen thousand, while the numbers of souvenirs later traded and sold growing past fifty thousand. A horrifying series of postcards depicting the murder were also created in commemoration of the grisly spectacle. There was nothing sane, just, or humane about this trial and murder. This was the reality of a community's embrace of white supremacy coupled with the United States government's inability and unwillingness to intervene. The behavior and actions of the mob were reflected as true justice and a rite of passage for the young men. Not a single man was tried or convicted for what occurred that day.