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First Waco Horror

The Lynching of Jesse Washington and the Rise of the NAACP

By Patricia Bernstein

Publication Year: 2006

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University

title page

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xii

This book would have been impossible without the help of many, beginning with the good people of Waco. Their generosity and kindness in sharing information and time with a stranger was a continuing source of delight and has immeasurably enriched this book. I mention in particular, and with much gratitude, ...

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pp. 3-6

In April 1995, Lawrence Johnson, black city councilman from Waco, Texas, visited Memphis to attend the National Conference of Black Mayors. While he was there, he took the time to see the National Civil Rights Museum. Built around the remains of the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot ...

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CHAPTER 1. “Alert, Pushing, and Rich”: The Setting of the Waco Horror

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pp. 7-28

The setting for the Waco Horror was no dusty little dump of a town, no Tumbleweed Junction sprung up at an isolated crossroads. Waco’s first city block was laid out in March 1849 at the confluence of the Bosque and the Brazos rivers, in good farming country on the blackland prairie, about halfway between Dallas ...

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CHAPTER 2. “Active for Good”: The Beginnings of the NAACP

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pp. 29-62

As the deluge of blood from lynchings and pogroms against blacks washed across the South during the early twentieth century, with occasional broad streams flowing up into the Midwest, most people not directly involved were content to sit back and watch, some with tacit approval, others with a muttered ...

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CHAPTER 3. “Yours in a Glorious Cause”: The Investigator

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pp. 63-77

On September 15, 1911, Elisabeth Freeman, a twenty-six-year-old American woman from New York, returned to New York City on the steamship Baltic after six years in England.1 In a speech she gave at Convention Hall in Buffalo two weeks later, Freeman explained to her audience how a ...

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CHAPTER 4. Prelude to a Lynching: Is Harmony and Efficiency”

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pp. 78-86

On April 12, 1916, John Dollins, former police and fire commissioner of Waco, a tall, rotund man “with a big smile and a heart of equal proportions,” was inaugurated as mayor. He was the only man in the history of Waco—at least until his death in 1930—to be elected mayor without opposition.1 Over a mass ...

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CHAPTER 5. An “Exciting Occurrence”: The Lynching

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pp. 87-118

The story of the Waco Horror begins with the discovery of a body. Just about sundown on the evening of Monday, May 8, 1916, near the town of Robinson,1 eight miles south of Waco, twenty-one-year-old Ruby Fryer and her brother, fourteen-year-old George Fryer Jr., returned home from chopping cotton on the ...

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CHAPTER 6. “Enough to Make the Devil Gasp”: How Could This Happen?

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pp. 119-126

If you had been picked up from wherever you were and dropped into Waco, Texas, on the morning of May 15, 1916, and if you, devoid of all context, had watched the Waco Horror unfold, you would surely have thought you were no longer on earth but had fallen into the bottom pit of Hell. How could such a thing ...

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CHAPTER 7. “The News Will Go Far”: The Immediate Aftermath

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pp. 127-136

The reaction to the Waco Horror across the state of Texas, across the country, even outside the country, was overwhelming. It was as if the Associated Press accounts of the lynching carried with them a sizzling current of revulsion and disgust. Newspaper readers were becoming accustomed to reading about ...

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CHAPTER 8. “Who Is She; a Detective?”: The Investigation

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pp. 137-158

While the newspapers and the journals chewed over the grisly story of the Waco Horror, the NAACP took immediate action. On May 16, 1916, one day after the lynching of Jesse Washington, Royal Freeman Nash, the white social worker who was then secretary of the NAACP, wired Elisabeth Freeman in ...

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CHAPTER 9. “Inject Lynching into the Public Mind”: The Follow-up Reaction

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pp. 159-172

Du Bois took Elisabeth Freeman’s raw material and photographs and imposed an organizing principle so that the reader could follow the story of what he dubbed “the Waco Horror” from start to finish. “The Waco Horror” was printed as a special eight-page supplement to the July 1916 issue of The Crisis. ...

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CHAPTER 10. “Sheriff Stegall Is Prepared to Defend the Jail”: Change Comes at Last to Waco

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pp. 173-191

It would be heartening to be able to report that the NAACP’s 1916 campaign to shame the nation with the story of the Waco Horror ended the scourge of lynching across the country—or at least ended lynching in Texas, or, at the very least, ended lynching in Waco. Unfortunately, none of these claims would be true. ...

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Epilogue: “One of the Best Vote-Getters the County Ever Saw”

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pp. 192-206

As the outlook for blacks in America improved by degrees over the decades, time passed for all of the reformers—and for the major players in the Waco portion of this story, as well. Some reached ends that fit the lives they led; others suffered or prospered in ways that do not seem to match the part they played. ...


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pp. 207-234


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pp. 235-244


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pp. 245-252

E-ISBN-13: 9781603445474
E-ISBN-10: 1603445471
Print-ISBN-13: 9781585445448
Print-ISBN-10: 1585445444

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 24 b&w photos. Map.
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University