Violence and White Supremacy within the United States have for over three centuries been mutually inclusive. This was the means by which whites maintained economic, social and political dominion over blacks especially. Though, emancipation allowed for the abolishment of chattel slavery, blacks were no less victims to the oppressiveness of racism.
It could be argued that relations got even worse during the redemption period of the early 1900s when white supremacists called for the removal of rights for blacks and a return to the old order. Within the United States, between the periods of 1889-1918, lynching within the border constituted about three victims a day.
This was as if emancipation created an insatiable appetite for blood lust amongst the white racists. A significant instance of this was the Waco Horror, which entailed the murder of Lucy Fryer, and the arrest of a black suspect named Jesse Washington, who ultimately was lynched and mutilated.
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But what is of importance to highlight is not only this but the order of events that culminated in his ruin, particularly the biased judicial system that led to his doom. It almost appears as if Washington’s fate was inevitable long before it was actualized.
Henceforth, the Waco Horror was a testament to White supremacy being inherently evil against blacks as a result of the biased investigative process, the indifference of state agencies to ensure a fair trial and the unfathomable levels of deranged behavior white supremacists could display.
The investigation of the victim’s death was skewed to not work in the favor of Washington from before it even began, and it was almost wishful thinking to believe it could go otherwise. This was evidenced by the immediacy of Washington’s arrest after Fryer’s discovery and the lack of thorough examination done to indict him.
On the evening of May 8, 1916, in Robinson, Texas, a man walking heard screams from the direction of George Fryer’s place, a couple yards from his. On arrival, he saw an inconsolable Ruby Fryer and her brother staring at the corpse of their mother, Lucy Fryer. Subsequently, the crime was reported to Sheriff Fleming who organized an investigative group of his deputies, numerous Waco policemen and then departed for Robinson.
The report spread like wildfire throughout the Robinson community, and several locals joined together and offered their assistance in resolving the case. During this, a physician examined the woman’s corpse and discovered her brain was bashed in and deduced that the assailant must have used a blunt weapon. Washington, a teenager who had recently been employed to the Fryers’, was stated to be cutting wood in blood-stained clothes that day and not surprisingly became a prime suspect. He, along with his family, was taken away for further questioning.
But this asks the question, would someone who just murdered someone be wearing the clothes he wore when they committed the crime especially if the clothes had the evidence of blood on it. Would not the smart thing to do, be the removal/destruction of the evidence as most sensible culprits would do. Why also would the culprit be present in proximity to the crime scene? Would not the wise thing to do, be to remove himself from completely. This information, in particular, was suspect as it appeared too convenient.
It appeared as if they needed someone to be responsible and would not a naïve, illiterate teenager be the perfect candidate to take the fall. No one would argue otherwise after all. Eventually, his parents were released but during Washington’s interrogation, they observed that though he continued to deny any knowledge in connection to the murder, there were discrepancies in his statements and thus kept him jailed.
The detainment of Washington raised tempers in Robinson and the sheriff, understanding the risks of Washington being mobbed, transferred him to Hillsboro where he was persistently interrogated. This materialized into Washington giving a confession that he murdered Lucy Fryer and that he did it with a Blacksmith’s hammer that was hidden in a field on the Fryer’s land.
This also was rather peculiar on reading as it was no doubt that a confession of murder was gained through intimidation and manipulation of his ignorance. Once again, it is to be reiterated that he was a black teenager with no knowledge of his rights, and probably was incentivized to give a confession such as enabling him to go free if he was to confess. Another point was, after attaining this information, Washington was escorted to Dallas where he dictated a confession to the Dallas County attorney stating in addition to the murder, he also raped her.
This showed the virtually, nefarious measures that products of White Supremacy would take in order to tie someone to crime especially one as vulnerable as Washington. Unfortunately, incapable of writing as he was illiterate, he signed the confession with an X in place of his name and then was jailed to await trial.
The right to a fair trial was always going to be elusive to Washington especially due to the circumstances of the crime and worst he was black. With this said, on Thursday, May 11, a McLennan County grand jury convened and returned a murder indictment against Washington. The trial of Washington began at 10 am on May 15 with a judge presiding over a courtroom filled to capacity. Spectators flooded the balcony and some even stood on benches to get a better vantage point.
Not unexpectedly, the majority of the courtroom was White and it was so densely packed that there were occasions where the jurors had to be carried over the crowd to reach the front of the courtroom. There were so much disruption and noise in the court that the judge frequently had to use his gavel to regain order and silence. This was a complete contrast to contemporary Courtroom etiquette in the United States which prohibits disruptive behavior such as talking, laughing and shouting.
The heightened excitement of the spectators on the inside of the courtroom contrasted with the few black bystanders on the outside who were “quiet and seemingly not much excited”, according to the Waco paper. In addition, there was a tempestuous mood amongst most of the white spectators. Prior to the trial, as Washington was escorted into the courtroom, a white man unpocketed his revolver and declared, “might as well get him now” and this assassination was foiled by another white bystander who disarmed him and replied, “let them have the trial”.
Once again, it showed the lack of respect for the sanctity of the court as any of those present could do as they felt including carrying weapons. Conversely, there would be dire consequences for such actions in modern-day trials as such a person would be in contempt of the court. But then again, it was a privilege exclusive to the whites to ‘move the goal post’ wherever it suited them. Essentially, had it probably been an all-white trial, there probably would have been more inclination for the judge to enforce courtroom rules, but in this instance the defendant was black, so it was not as important. The trial proceeded quickly as the jury selection was prompt, the defense counsel offered no challenges to the prospective juror and after these events, the judge requested the defendant’s plea in reference to whether he committed the crime to which he replied “yeah”.
When Washington was called to be cross-examined by the counsel for the defense, he replied incoherently “I ain’t going to tell them nothing more than what I said-that’s what I done”. After which, the counsel translated he’s sorry for what he did. The role of the defendant’s lawyer is to argue in defense of their client, is that not so? But obviously, this was the contrary with Washington’s lawyer. Washington probably had little to no understanding of what was asked of him when he pleaded guilty; he misinterpreted what was asked when he replied “yeah”.
Furthermore, it was evident as aforementioned that his fate was decided before the trial even began but what was most alarming was the brazenness of the defense lawyer to not even attempt to argue a strong case for the client. But then again, it would not have been in the lawyer’s interest to do so or rather it may have been unwise because of potential implications it could have on his career; dishonoring of his name, the label of ‘nigger-lover’ or worse his own security.
Ultimately, deliberations did not take long as it took a mere four minutes for the jury to come to a decision and declared the defendant guilty of murder. Conclusively, the lack of control over maintaining order in the court by the judge and failure of the defense counsel to defend the client added to the speediness to which the jury came to the guilty decision. This was suggestive of the skewed system, particularly against black people.
With quick anticipation, after the court adjourned, the racist spectators commenced their wicked sense of jungle justice. One shouted, “get the nigger” and a group of men lunged at convicted Washington and carried him out the courtroom and down the staircase of the courthouse where hundreds stood in the alley. A chain was subsequently thrown around Washington’s neck as if a dog and was dragged towards City Hall where a group awaited to build a bonfire. As the crowd outside got closer to Washington, the truly depraved and wicked nature of the white racists became manifested. He was attacked, stabbed and even beaten with bricks and shovels.
Unfortunately, as Washington reached City Hall, he was almost unconscious and bleeding profusely. Showing no signs of slowing down, the mob decided to up the ante and doused him with coal oil then threw the rope over a strong limb of a tree where a couple of men hoisted him into the air for everyone to see. This was followed by them lowering him onto combustibles.
The levels of heightened blood lust by the mob extended to the cutting of Washington’s fingers, ears and toes. In addition to the ghastly things aforementioned, spectators moved forward in earnest to be the first to ignite the fire. Once lit, the flames quickly enveloped Washington and as the lynching spread throughout the city, large groups of curious onlookers including women and children arrived to look at the grim proceedings. As the body continued to burn, some spectators would even search the ground for bits of bone and pieces of the hanging tree as if to ensure they did not leave without a souvenir.
Even worse was after all that remained were skull and bones, a horseman lassoed it and dragged the remains through the main streets of downtown Waco. To think that white supremacists were so desensitized to carnage and maiming spoke volumes to their character. At one point, his skull broke away from the body and young boys extracted teeth and sold them for five dollars. So essentially, even a child took pleasure in desecrating the body for gain.
Moreover, to think that children were not put off or fearful of being close to the dead was very macabre. To show how completely apathetic capitalistic whites were, during that time, Washington’s charred corpse was printed on postcards and pictures and commercialized. It is truly mind-boggling to try and comprehend how people could normalize the printing of corpses on paper as a salutary/congratulatory parcel. Needless to say, this was one of the most horrific and inhumane displays of evil against black people in the history of America.
Washington underwent an ordeal that no human being irrespective of what they did should deserve. He was not only brutally killed, maimed and commercialized, but was also not even given a fair chance throughout the investigation and in court.
To just imagine the heartbreak a parent must feel in knowing that they would be unable to bury their child because the body was broken and, similar to Christ’s garment, was ‘cast for lots’ is indescribable. This was a clear indication of the full potential of white supremacists to do evil.
Though the Waco Horror was not unique in the showing of barbarism and propensity for grizzly acts amongst racists, it was the event that created a notoriously dark legacy for Waco that still holds today.