Today marks the 100th anniversary of the brutal lynching of seventeen year old Jesse Washington in Waco, Texas. Washington, accused of murder and rape, was burned alive by a mob of 15,000.
Though he quietly entered a guilty plea, there remains much speculation to whether he was actually guilty of either crime. Regardless, his trial now would not pass for anything more than a rubber stamp. There was no attempt to keep the mob at bay.
What follows is a period newspaper article describing the spectacle. More to the point, however, were the dozen or so photographs taken at every stage of the lynching itself. Shortly after, these were made into postcards and sold at local Texas gas stations.
15,000 Witness Burning of Negro in Public Square
Waco, Tex., May 15 – Screaming for Mercy until the flames silenced him, Jesse Washington, a negro of eighteen years [probably 17 years old], was burned to death by a mob in the public square here today. Many women and children were among the 15,000 who witnessed the lynching.
Just a week ago, the lad assaulted and killed Mrs. Lucy Fryar, a white woman, in her home at Robinson, seven miles from here. There was no question of his guilt, and he got one of the quickest trials on record in this part of Texas. The proceeding ended this forenoon, when the jury brought in a verdict of guilty, carrying with it the death penalty. [The deliberation took all of four minutes.]
“I’m sorry I done it,” said the prisoners in a whisper, shaking with fear as he saw the crowd in the court room rising threateningly all around him with the pronouncement of the verdict.
“Get that nigger! was the shout raised by some, and it was chorused by the mob. The leaders made a rush, sweeping officers and lawyers aside. The negro was seized and then was dragged from the court room.
The first suggestion was to hang him from the suspension bridge, and a chain was tied around his neck and he was dragged, yelling, in that direction.
“Burn him! roared the hundreds of voices all raised at once, and the idea pleased the mob. So the negro was dragged by the chain to the City Hall square. There the ringleaders stood him under a tree and threw the chain over a limb. Boxes and sticks of wood were piled around him and then he was hoisted over the pile.
His clothing was saturated with oil and a match was applied. At a signal the negro was hoisted further in the air, then was let fall into the flames.
It was all over one hour from the rendering of the jury’s death verdict [some sources say it was closer to two hours]. When the fire had burned itself out the charred body was put in a sack and was dragged behind an automobile to Robinson, where it was hanged to a telephone pole for the colored populace to gaze upon.
Text from the New York World, May 16, 1916
There are several fine sources for more information on this lynching, but the best is probably ‘The “Waco Horror”: The Lynching of Jesse Washington’ by James M. SoRelle, which can be read online for free here.