waco horror

The back of the postcard reads: “This is the barbecue we had last night. My picture is to the left with a cross over it. Your son, Joe.”

Jesse Washington, a 17 year old mentally retarded African American farmhand from Waco, Texas, United States, was convicted of murder on May 15, 1916, and infamously tortured and burned alive in a racially motivated lynching known as the Waco Horror.

Washington was arrested on May 8, 1916, charged with having raped and murdered Lucy Fryer (53), the wife of a well-to-do cotton farmer in Robinson, Texas, on the outskirts of Waco, Texas. Fryer was found bludgeoned to death. Washington was sent to the jail in Dallas for detention prior to his trial to avoid a lynch mob. Due to tremendous public pressure which was also incited by the local press he was transferred back to Waco and put on trial a week later.

The trial took place on May 15, and the jury of twelve white men found him guilty and sentenced him to death.

The trial lasted four minutes and, before he could be executed, he was seized by the mob without resistance from the authorities. A chain was put around his neck, and he was dragged to the town square. Furthermore, according to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center within Cincinnati Ohio,he had been stoned with bricks, spat upon, and, at numerous points in torture, had shovels dug into his bare flesh and bone. A pile of wooden boxes had been set up at the base of a tree—Washington was castrated, thrown onto the pile, and then doused with coal oil. The chain had then been secured around a tree limb, and Washington, still secured within was hoisted above the flame. He made numerous attempts to climb the now-hot chain, and the crowd cut off his fingers to prevent any further attempt at escape. Three times, the agonized boy was raised and lowered into the flame in front of the crowd of 16,000, and in direct response, three times, further, according to the Cincinnati Freedom Center Exhibit, the crowd cheered and roared. It is not known how long he lasted before he died, but the mob let him burn for over an hour; they then took various body parts, such as his fingers and teeth, as souvenirs. His limbs were separated from his body, put in a bag, and dragged around town.

Among the spectators watching Washington burn was the mayor of Waco. Photographer Fred Gildersleeve took photographs of the lynching to turn into postcards. Washington was 17 years old at the time of his death.


So I actually really considered whether or not to post this to my blog. In the end I decided to, because I just think it’s absolutely amazing how in the scheme of things, this event really wasn’t that long ago. It’s amazing how in fairly modern times, human beings were capable of doing this to another human being merely because of the colour of their skin.