Jeffrey L. Littlejohn
As a historian and director of the Lynching in Texas mission, which has documented greater than 600 racial terror lynchings, I obtain common emails from journalists, students and activists who need to talk about the historical past of racial violence.
My conversations with reporters and historians didn’t put together me for one of many emails I obtained final winter. The author, a Chicago memorabilia supplier, provided to mail me a photograph album that included an image from a Texas lynching.
I responded that I might recognize the chance to overview the album and to assist establish the sufferer.
A couple of week later, I opened the envelope and located 5 photographs, a small cartoon and a key labeled “Teddie’s photos.”
Every of the images was numbered.
The primary was a 6-by-5-inch picture of what seemed to be burning wooden. It proved troublesome to decipher. However the description clarified issues.
It learn: “Burning of negro in entrance of outdated Metropolis Corridor, Waco, Texas.”
Revealing historical past classes
I instantly got down to establish the sufferer and to find the story behind “Teddie’s photos.”
As I did so, I spotted that what I used to be doing can be controversial, if not unlawful, had I been a Ok-12 trainer in Texas.
The truth is, I used to be partaking within the very type of historic evaluation that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Republican legislators in Texas need to ban from public faculties.
In 2021, for instance, Texas Republicans enacted Senate Invoice 3 to ban Ok-12 educators from educating that “slavery and racism are something aside from deviations from … the genuine founding rules of the US, which embody liberty and equality.”
In different phrases, this official state interpretation holds that slavery, racism and racism’s lethal manifestation, lynching, didn’t function systemic forces that formed Texas historical past however had been as a substitute aberrations with none basic which means for Texans – and even past the state.
Teddie’s picture album, which additionally included photos of Teddie and her husband doing regular, on a regular basis issues like using donkeys and going to marriage ceremony anniversary dinners, introduced a direct problem to this interpretation.
Racist mob terror
Certainly, my analysis quickly revealed that the images belonged to Mary “Teddie” Kemp, a white lady from Pennsylvania who moved along with her husband, Gene Kemp, to Waco, Texas, in 1922.
This date proved essential, as a result of it meant that the sufferer in Teddie’s picture album couldn’t be Jesse Washington, the 17-year-old mentally handicapped younger man who was lynched within the notorious “Waco Horror” of 1916.
In that lynching, historian Patricia Bernstein writes, Washington was “crushed, stabbed, mutilated, hanged and burned to demise on the Waco city sq., earlier than an viewers of 10-15,000 screaming, cheering spectators.”
The truth is, the dates on the opposite photographs in Teddie’s album made it seemingly that this image confirmed the burning of Jesse Thomas, a 23-year-old Black man.
Thomas was wrongly accused of murdering W. Harrell Bolton and assaulting his feminine companion, Margaret Hays, close to Waco on Could 25, 1922.
When Hays recognized Thomas as her seemingly assailant, a relative named Sam Harris shot and killed Thomas.
A white mob then dragged his physique to Metropolis Corridor and burned it earlier than a crowd of a number of thousand individuals.
White supremacy in Texas
The identification of Jesse Thomas because the sufferer in Teddie’s picture album solely led to extra questions.
Why would an informed white lady from Pennsylvania embody an image of a Black lynching sufferer in a private picture album?
Why would she take her photographs out of chronological sequence and place the lynching image as the primary picture within the album?
The solutions to those questions reveal an amazing deal about Texas simply 100 years in the past.
In my opinion, the album exposes the precedence that Anglo Texans – even new arrivals to the state – positioned on white supremacy and Black subjugation.
Teddie seemingly pasted the image of Jesse Thomas’ burning physique in the beginning of her album as a result of it featured an electrifying, adrenaline-charged occasion that viscerally illustrated the character of her new Texas residence.
Certainly, as historian William Carrigan has proven, white supremacy and racial violence served as core parts of the state’s identification.
Collectively, they established the written and unwritten guidelines governing the social order – who might vote, who might marry whom, who might attend occasions – and the last word punishment for transgressing the foundations.
Lynchings, just like the one depicted in Teddie’s picture album, current a direct problem to the whitewashed view of Texas historical past that Abbott and his Republican colleagues choose.
Lynchings occurred usually in Texas – with 16 in 1922 alone – and served as probably the most excessive and violent embodiment of white supremacy within the state in the course of the Jim Crow interval.
When Black and Hispanic Texans dared to problem white authority or to assert for themselves the rights of U.S. residents, they confronted violence on a scale hardly ever seen in different elements of the nation.
W.E.B. Du Bois Papers
In Could 1922, for instance, white Texans carried out in a single month at the least 10 lynchings, extra lynchings than in every other state however Georgia for your complete yr.
Eight of the Texas victims killed in 1922 had been burned on the stake in a type of torture that most individuals right this moment affiliate with the so-called Darkish Ages.
However these horrific acts occurred in trendy Texas, only a few generations in the past. And white individuals caught the occasions on movie and put the photographs in their very own household albums.
100 years in the past, the lynching of Black women and men in Texas was not an aberration. It proved the rule. You could possibly say white supremacist rule.
Jeffrey L. Littlejohn doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or group that will profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their educational appointment.
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