NewsBlack History Month


Central Texas' long, troubling history of racism

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Posted at 9:53 PM, Feb 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-02 23:53:25-05

The State of Texas has a long, troubling history of racism beginning with slavery.

Though the nation abolished the practice in 1865, the racial attitudes toward black people continued for decades, along with generations of violent lynchings.

Two of Waco's most horrific lynchings, Sank Majors and Jesse Washington, led to a larger for change to stop violent killings of black men.

"For years, his death hung over our family like a dark cloud," Nona Kirkpatrick said. "My mother and her siblings were brought up not to talk about him for fear of retribution."

What once was a family-kept secret is now being exposed.

"I could tell it hurt her to talk about it," Kirkpatrick said.

76-year-old, Nona Kirkpatrick remembers the story told to her by her grandmother, Mary Majors Green.

"Sank majors was my great grandmother's youngest brother so that made him my great uncle," she said.

In the summer of 1905, Majors was arrested and put in jail.

"It was a classic story of the South. A young black man accused of raping a white woman," Kirkpatrick said. "But his story was particularly interesting because he had an attorney. A white man represented him, and he had enough evidence to prove Sank was innocent."

A jury found Majors guilty and he was sentenced to prison. However, with the lawyers' evidence, Majors' case qualified to be tried again. Before that could happen, on August 8 of 1905, an angry mob broke into the jail looking for vigilante justice.

"They took him down to what's known now as the Washington Street Bridge. They hanged him from the bridge and then shot the body," Kirkpatrick said.

Hundreds of lynchings just like that of Sank Majors produced no consequences, eventually leading to one of the worst lynchings on record in Central Texas.

"There's no good way to lynch somebody but Jesse Washington's was one of the most horrific that anybody had ever heard of because he was stabbed and they burned him," Kirkpatrick said.

In 1916, nearly a decade after Majors' killing, Jesse Washington was accused of raping and killing a white woman, Lucy Fryer, in Robinson.

She was the wife of a farmer he worked for.

"Somebody said they saw him near where the murder took place moments before," Dr. George Harrison said.

Fryer was found bludgeoned to death inside her home.

"It didn't go well for Jesse as far as that's concerned," Harrison said.

Washington was arrested and put on trial. Harrison said the all-white jury deliberated for just four minutes before finding Washington guilty. Quickly after the verdict, an angry mob rushed into the courthouse, seized the man, and pushed him in front of City Hall.

"His genitals were removed; his fingers and toes were cut off," Harrison said.

Nearly 15,000 people gathered around, watching and cheering as the mob burned Washington alive. They, then, dragged him through the streets of Waco and black neighborhoods.

"It brought horror to many; to the black community, it was a horror," Harrison said.

"He was 17 years old. That is a kid by any definition," Shannon Spitzer.

No one really knows if Washington did, in fact, kill and rape Lucy Fryer.

But, Spitzer, Fryers' great great-granddaughter said, even if he did, his death was wrong.

"What happened to him subsequently after he performed this terrible act was not justice, not even close," she said.

Photos and postcards of Washington's lynching were sent across the country, eventually reaching the newly formed NAACP.

"I think Washington was one of those things that sparked a preliminary movement toward the civil rights movement," Harrison said.

There was a national effort to pass a federal antilynching bill in 1918. Although it was defeated by white southerners in the senate, the culture around circus-like lynchings shifted.

Suddenly, there were consequences and people were held accountable for killing black people.

"It seems like it takes monumental instances, that we'll never forget, to make other things happen," Harrison said.

Moments in time sparked a movement to create a more just and equal society.