“Why can’t you black people forget about that stuff…it happened so long ago?” Every heard some scatter brain say that? Well, don’t let them get away with that baloney. Here is a good reason to remember the past. One of the best books out there is a study by Patricia Bernstein called, “The First Waco Horror.” The detailed descriptions in the book about the lynching and burning of African American Jesse Washington are explicit enough, but what is most important is the savage Texas attitude of some 15 to 20 thousand racist whites who gathered to participate or watch with glee the brutal killing of a black man at Waco, Texas in 1916. Some of these descriptions are worth reviewing if one is to get a handle on racism in Texas and how it never seems to completely go away despite the grand pronouncements of naïve Blacks and Whites that we are all Americans now.Remember, everything is Bigger in Texas—including the lying.
Patricia Bernstein describes Waco, Texas as a place that prided itself on its civilized nature. The city leaders thought of themselves as builders of the “Wonder City,” and the “Convention City,” and even went so far as to describe themselves in such lofty terms as the “Athens of Texas.” The city residents according to Bernstein widely regarded their city as a city of refinement and culture. These slack-jawed descriptions, typically Texan baloney, made outsiders think of the pleasant environs of Waco, that numbered some 30,000 residents at the time Jesse Washington was burned at the stake, in the middle of downtown Waco.
Thousands of racists rushed to the scene of the lynching after a mob removed him from the courthouse in Waco. Jesse Washington was taken to a tree with a chain around his neck and tangled in the air from a tree. Under that tree was a pile of flammable items that was to be used to burn Jesse Washington to death. When being dangled in the air Jesse Washington was stabbed in the back of the neck. This wound was apparently not enough to kill him and coal was poured over him to make him a human candle. Members of the racist mob all began fighting for positions from which to throw their matches to ignite Jesse Washington. Small boys climbed trees to get a better view and thought it fun sport by their expressions in photos from the event. Remember, everything is bigger in Texas—including the stupidity.
According to reports Jesse Washington was not yet dead at this point and “managed at one point during the burning to kick himself free” of the fire. Whites and a few “Negroes,” who were of an Uncle Tom ilk that is almost unimaginable to understand, cheered out of windows or on top the shoulders of their fellow onlookers. There were reports of well dress white ladies that clapped as Jesse Washington cried out in terror as the flames engulfed his body. Everyone present was happy and enjoyed the festive atmosphere of the hanging and burning. His body was burned for about two hours until “there was nothing left but a skull, a torso, and stumps of limbs.”
A short time later a man on a horse roped what was left of the body and dragged it around the center of town waving his hat in the air in like some dumb ignorant cowboy buffoon in what must have been a most macabre scene. This resulted in the head being knocked off. Several young boys grabbed the head and extracted the teeth which they sold for five dollars to racist onlookers who were desperate for a memento of the occasion. Finally, the rest of the body was tied behind a car and dragged to another town where it was put in a sack and hung from a telephone poll that was located in front of a blacksmith shop so that everyone could see it.
We have racist white terrorism even today, but this was Texas terrorism at its best, something that Texans don’t like to talk about or even admit happened. But happen it did, and the collective memory of such acts cannot be erased by some African Americans and some Whites who want to pretend that it is still not a horror remembered in the collective soul of those who will not forget. There are those that have the gall to make comments like this; “Why can’t you black people forget about that stuff…it happened so long ago?” Well, we ought to ask them why can’t they forget about the Alamo? Why can’t they forget about Pearl Harbor? Or forget about the Star Spangled Banner? Racist minded folks always want the victims of oppression to forget about their victimization but they never want to forget their history!