Imagining a Better Future by Re-imagining the Past

Saturday, May 30, 2020

A Man Was Lynched Yesterday

Jesse Washington was an African-American seventeen-year-old farmhand in Texas. In 1916, he was convicted of raping and murdering the wife of his white employer in rural Robinson, Texas. After the conviction, he was chained by his neck and dragged out of the county court by observers. He was then paraded through the street, all while being stabbed and beaten, before being held down and castrated. He was then lynched in front of Waco's city hall.

Over 10,000 spectators, including city officials and police, gathered to watch the attack. There was a celebratory atmosphere among whites at the spectacle of the murder. Many children attended during their lunch hour. Members of the mob cut off his fingers and hung him over a bonfire after saturating him with coal oil. He was repeatedly lowered and raised over the fire for about two hours. After the fire was extinguished, his charred torso was dragged through the town, and parts of his body were sold as souvenirs. A professional photographer took pictures as the event unfolded, providing rare imagery of a lynching in progress. The photographs were printed and sold as postcards in Waco.

In response to this horrific event, the NAACP developed a flag with white text, "A MAN WAS LYNCHED YESTERDAY" on a black background. This flag served as a means to protest the lynching of Washington and other African-Americans in the United States.

The NAACP flag exhibited by the Library of Congress

The flag was flown each day after news of a lynching reached the NAACP. It flew 73 times in the period for lynchings in the state of Georgia alone. The NAACP stopped the practice in 1938 after it was threatened with eviction by their landlords over the matter. The original flag survives and is now in the collection of the Library of Congress.

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