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Waco Recalls a 90-Year-Old 'Horror'

On Monday, a small interracial organization will meet on the steps of the Waco Texas courthouse to read a resolution condemning and apologizing for the lynching of 17-year-old Jesse Washington.

Washington’s lynching 90 years ago was so astonishingly brutal that the incident became known nationally as the "Waco Horror."

The Waco Interracial Coalition is forcing Waco to confront some of its painful history and there are many in this city of 200,000 who have no interest in apologizing for something that happened 90 years ago.

"It's a very ugly part of history," says Ray Meadows, a Waco county commissioner. "I regret that it happened, but as far as me coming out to apologize…I didn't have anything to do with it."

A Murder, Followed by a Lynching

Around sundown of May 8, 1916, Lucy Fryer, the wife of a well regarded cotton farmer, was found bludgeoned to death in the doorway of her seed house. Jesse Washington, who was illiterate and branded "feeble-minded", confessed to the murder.

Soon after a jury found him guilty, a crowd of 2,000 men seized Washington, chained him, beat him and dragged him to the town square, where he was burned.

His fingers were amputated for souvenirs and his fingernails taken for keepsakes. Finally all that was left was a charred torso, but Washington’s body parts were put in a bag so they could be dragged through downtown.

A Story in Search of an End

"I had been hearing about it all of my life," says Lester Gibson, the only African-American county commissioner in Waco. "It's a wound that has not healed in the mindset of the African-American community. It's going to continue to be passed on from generation to generation. I think that the only thing that can basically bring McLennan County together is some reconciliation of the matter."

Monday at 11 a.m., the precise moment Jesse Washington was seized in the courtroom, the Waco interracial coalition will announce their regret for Washington’s murder. Later in the week, the county commissioners and the city council will debate whether they should make any official statement.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.