The "Waco Horror":
The Lynching of Jesse Washington
JAMES M. SORELLE*
DURING THE YEARS FROM 1889 TO 1918, THE UNITED STATES EXPERI-
enced 3,224 lynchings within its borders, or roughly one every
three days. Nearly 80 percent of the victims were Negroes, and the vast
majority of the incidents occurred in the South. Georgia, for example,
held the dubious distinction of leading all states with a total of 386
lynchings, while Mississippi and Texas followed closely with 373 and
335, respectively. These statistics furnish an irrefutable record of mob
violence and seem to corroborate Mr. Dooley's characterization of the
racial climate confronting black Americans in the early twentieth cen-
tury. "Th' black has manny fine qualities," the bartender-sage told his
friend, Hennessey. "He is joyous, light-hearted, an' aisily lynched."'
For some white Americans, lynching apparently represented a justi-
fiable means of punishing alleged black criminals and of providing a
vivid reminder that white supremacy still reigned in the land. "The
white man in lynching a Negro does it as an indirect act of self-defense
against the Negro criminal as a race," one apologist argued. "When the
abnormally criminal Negro race . . . puts himself [sic] in harmony with
our civilization, if ever, through assimilating our culture and making
our ideals its own, then may it be hoped that his [sic] crimes will be re-
duced to normal and lynching will cease, the cause being removed."
Such a statement reveals the climate of opinion that no doubt led J. W.
Bailey, editor of the Biblical Recorder, to observe: "Lynching, mob-
spirit, lawlessness, are in the blood of our people." Many other whites,
simply preferring to ignore the problem, would have agreed with the
reader of the Crisis, the official organ of the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People, who expressed his dissatisfaction
with "so much talk about the lynching of Negroes" in the pages of that
* James M. SoRelle is lecturer in history at Baylor University.
1National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Thirty Years of Lynch-
ing in the United States, 1889-z918 (New York, 1919), 7; Finley Peter Dunne, "The Booker
Washington Incident," Mr. Dooley's Opinions (New York, 1901), 210 (quotation).
2Winfield H. Collins, The Truth About Lynching and the Negro in the South (New
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 86, July 1982 - April, 1983. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101209/. Accessed December 21, 2013.