A couple of lynchings
This is not a pretty story. It includes graphic descriptions of torture and mutilation. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
It may be hard to realize now, but when I was a child in Texas in the 50s, there were people around who had actually participated in some of the most barbaric acts ever committed in this country, the frequent lynchings of black men in the 1890s and early 1900s.
I had the misfortune to meet some of these lynchers and I was actually related to at least one of them.
Far from being ashamed or contrite, some of these people boasted of their role many years after the fact, as though the murders had been a highlight of their lives.
We are not talking about drive-by shootings here, either, bad as those are.
A case in point is the lynching of Jesse Washington, convicted of the rape and murder of a white woman in Waco in 1916. Washington was 17 years old and mentally handicapped. His trial took all of four minutes, after which he was seized by a mob and dragged around town in chains. Then they built a bonfire:
……. 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 chance of 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 until he died but the mob let him burn for over an hour, they then took various body parts as souvenirs such as his fingers and teeth. His limbs were separated from his body, put in a bag and dragged around town.
There were hundreds of photographs taken of this incident, including a famous and horrific specimen reproduced at the link above. I have good reason to believe that the ghoul in the dark hat and white shirt just to the right of the stake is my great-grandmother’s cousin, Albert. He lived into the 1970s and always treated the incident as a kind of prank, or an example of populist anger superceding lawful but overly indulgent authority.
Later on, in the 70s, I knew a very old man who had witnessed the lynching of Henry Smith in Paris Texas in 1893. The witness was only 9 years old at the time but his parents had taken him and his siblings to what was, in essence, an organized community outing. Unlike Washington, Smith did not have a trial of any kind. He was basically convicted by acclamation of the heinous murder of a 4 year old white girl. He fled to Arkansas but was apprehended there and sent back to Paris. The town was waiting for him:
….. a mob of an estimated 10,000 whites placed him on a carnival float and carried him through town and out into a prairie. There, he was placed upon a scaffold and tortured for fifty minutes by members of the girl’s family, who thrust hot iron brands into his flesh, starting with his feet and legs and working upward to his head. The family members involved included Myrtle’s father, uncles, and twelve-year-old brother. A February 2, 1893 article in The New York Sun stated that, “Every groan from the fiend, every contortion of his body was cheered by the thickly packed crowd.” Eventually, the hot irons were thrust into his eye sockets and down his throat. Afterwards, finding he was still breathing, the crowd poured oil on him and set him on fire. The crowd then fought over the hot ashes to collect his bones and teeth as souvenirs.
My witness shared some additional details that probably should not see the light of day.
Do not imagine for a minute that segregated lunch counters and bad schools are the only possible consequences of racism.