On May 15, 1916 he was found guilty of murder - the rest is history.
There’s stillness in the air; cloaked with a thickening humidity that makes breathing laborious.
Flies, as fat as wasps, float about in lazy circles. In their eventual quest for respite, they seek refuge on motionless humans; some too buried in somber thoughts to care, while others swat away at them with absent-minded reflexes.
She adjusts her sitting position on the weathered porch; her dress too thin to protect her from the hard ridges and heat trickling from dilapidated wood panels. Beads of sweat run down her face as if trying to escape the thick nappy roots of her braided hair. She blinks away a few and squints down the quiet street; odd despite the many that litter it.
Grown men – like her Pappy – huddle in silent conversation; tendrils of smoke from their cigarettes circling dark and pinched features. They bury their hands in their pockets and kick at imaginary stones with shuffling feet. Their eyes remain downcast and slightly unfocused as if unable to confront what awaits.
The older ones – like her Gran’Pappy – sit on rocking chairs or at their window sills sucking on pipes releasing sweet-smelling tobacco. Ancient faces crinkle with a ‘knowing’, lips twitching silently at being unable to ‘tell’ their stories to those who really care to listen. Oh, but they’ve seen too much. They’ve suffered too much.
Today was just another day.
The women – like her Mammy – go about their business in solemnity. There’s not a raised voice to be heard; not even a baby hollering in protest. Even Ol’ Missus Betty – the cantankerous ‘witch’ of the neighborhood – does nothing but bury her face in her handkerchief every now and then while muttering incoherent prayers.
Over yonder the church bell suddenly chimes the new hour, and as if on cue, an unspoken collective sigh escapes them all.
The predictable verdict is in.
She strains her ears when she hears the mob; an excitable, angry, and delirious horde. She thinks she can hear all the slurs and racial epithets, the insults, and enthusiastic screams for death. She thinks she can hear a few small voices trying to get them to act like ‘civilized human beings for chrissakes’, but those voices of reason are drowned by Pure Insanity.
She thinks she hears the loudest scream of all in the midst of all the hoopla, and she squeezes her eyes shut and tries to drown it out.
Still it seeps through her consciousness and overwhelms the madness; a bitter reminder of the depth of his loneliness.
Scream! Oh scream within the darkness, boy!
Those innocent screams of confusion and pain; of heartbreak and misunderstanding. Of not knowing what’s going on, of why he’s being beaten, stabbed, kicked with a noose tightening around his neck, and dragged through the streets to shred his skin.
These are the screams of a young man - only seventeen, considered ‘dumb as a pile of rocks’ by most, who was convinced he would be set ‘free’ if he only told this one little lie by signing an X on ‘this here piece of paper, boy’ by menacing faces behind sickening smiles.
These are the screams within the sneering mass of humanity that surrounds him now as he’s doused with oil, hung from a tree, and slowly lowered up and down over and over and over again over burning boxes.
Feel that, boy? That’s what you get!
For two hours, they laugh.
For two hours, he bleeds.
For two hours, they mock.
For two hours, he prays.
For two hours, they spit and curse.
For two hours, he is reminded of what he really is.
And when he eventually falls silent; when the screams come to a merciful end, she feels she can breathe again.
There is now movement around her, but it’s only in preparation for what’s to come. They might not have known him personally – for kids like Jesse are rampant around the countryside in desperate times like these - but he was still one of their own.
The horde will return him here…as a lesson…as a reminder…
…until the next unfortunate nigger forgets his place.
Jesse Washington Lynching
Warning: Some images might be too graphic for readers