Sunday, May 15, 2016

American History - The Lynching of Mr. Jesse Washington

The Lynching of Mr. Jesse Washington - May 15, 1916 - Waco, TX

Don't look away! This is American History.
Don't look away!  May 15th of this year was a special day in that history.
Don't look away!  That was the 100th anniversary of the lynching of Mr. Jesse Washington.
Don't look away!  100th year anniversaries are worthy of being noted. 
Don't look away!  The mainstream media ignored that anniversary -- so, now, I'm your teacher!

Many of you have seen this horrid photograph before, in some article about the horrors of lynching in the South or something of that like. In fact, though this is easily one of the most gruesome photographs of a lynching, it's also probably one of the best known. 

Because see, there was a photographer -- at that lynching --  taking pictures, and he created postcards as souvenirs. I'm told they were a hot-selling item in 1916. Not quite as hot-selling as the charred fingers, toes and ears of the lynching victim . . . but hot enough. 

But let me not simply call him "the lynching victim." He's been called that too many times over the last 100 years. That just might be why we still now have to shout "Black Lives Matter."

His name was Jesse.

His name was Jesse Washington.

His name was Jesse Washington, and he was only 17-years old. A farmhand. Looking forward to his 18th birthday just a few months away.

On May 8th, he was sitting in his yard, happily whistling and whittling away when Deputy Sheriff Lee Jenkins walked over and told him to get into the law enforcement official's car.

Although Jenkins would give no reason why, Washington complied. Most colored folk would back then in 1916, since they were still colored. Tired, the teenager innocently fell asleep in the back seat of the police car. The last peaceful sleep he would have here on earth.

When they got to the sheriff's office in Waco, Washington was sat down and told that he should confess to killing Lucy Fryer, a 53-year old white woman who employed Washington and other of his family members to help with the farm. Oh, and he should confess to raping her, too.

Washington swore he didn't do it. After some hours of "Waco-persuasion," he changed his mind.

The sheriff would later say that Washington gave him information as to where to find the murderous hammer used to bash in her head.

The trial was held on May 15, 1916. It lasted less than an hour. The jury took four-and-a- half minutes to find him guilty.

Judge Richard Irby Munroe nodded and was about to hand down Washington's sentence when a voice from the back of the courtroom called out; "Get the nigger!"

A mob of more than 500 men dragged him through the streets, and cut off his testicles before tying him to a tree. They then lowered him over a bonfire, and then raised him back up, only to lower him again. They did this for two hours, while a crowd of about 15,000 cheered . . . . though not quite loud enough to drown out Washington's screams.

Lowering and raising him over the dancing flames. Lowering and raising him until his Black body was charcoal, and the screaming finally stopped. It took two hours for the screaming to stop.

As his body finally lay on the ground smoldering some of the crowd would reach over and snap off a finger or a toe.

When his body finally cooled school children reached inside his jaw and snapped out teeth to sell as souvenirs. They sold for a hefty five dollars apiece.

Law enforcement was there, and so was the mayor. No one did anything to stop the gruesome lynching of Jesse Washington. In fact, there are rumors that it was the mayor who called photographer Fred Gildersleeve over to City Hall for the express purpose of taking pictures to commemorate the occasion.

“This is the barbeque we had last night. My
picture is to the left with a cross over it.
Your son, Joe.”
(actual postcard mailed in 1916)
"Jesse Washington was an illiterate and probably didn't even understand the charges against him," the northern liberals cried!

"It could have been the husband who killed Lucy Fryer, not Jesse Washington," the Black newspapers shouted!

"As people of color, we know that we all that any  one of us could be the next Jesse Washington!" hollered the northern Black community and political leaders!

Oh yes! Most of the nation was outraged about Jesse Washington's barbaric and torturous slaying.

For a couple of years, anyway.

After awhile there were other lynchings to discuss. The Red Summer of 1919, with all of it's race riots in Detroit, Washington D.C., New York City. Prohibition starts. Bessie Smith is singing and recording the blues. The Harlem Renaissance begins.

(Say My Name!)
People still talk about the "Waco Horror."

(Say my name?)
Black politicians begin to emerge in the North and South and still refer to the "Waco Lynching" to get folks riled up.

(say my name? please?)
The Civil Rights Movement starts and progress is being made left and right by Black folks and, "Thank God, we don't have any more lynching like that one kid back in Texas. What year was that again?"

His name was Jesse Washington, he was 17-years old. And yes, too many people have forgotten his name. The nation was outraged at this death, newspapers editorialized, W. E. B. DuBois frothed at the mouth, and . . . now . . . ?

And . . . now?

In 2012 another 17-year old African-American boy was slaughtered, and his death also outraged a nation.

I wonder if it's because Jesse Washington's name was so easily forgotten that this other teenager's death was also allowed to happen without consequence to his murderer?

Maybe if we learned lasting lessons from what had already happened to us we wouldn't be mourning the death of a 18-year old in Ferguson, and mourning not only his death but the fact that his death was not avenged.

Perhaps if we remembered Jesse Washington -- remembered what happened to him and why --- perhaps . . . just maybe, the memory would have us so on guard, so on point, that a 12-year-old boy playing with a toy gun might still be alive.

Because maybe our collective racial memory would have been so strong that we would have already let the powers-that-be-know that we will not just stand by and let them pick off our young Black men and women.

So! This is your American History lesson for the day.

Trayvon Martin

Michael Brown

Tamir Rice

Damn right! And if you mean what you say about never forgetting these names we won't have to have this same American History lesson a hundred years from now.

Because there'll be no need.

Class dismissed!