May 15th, 1916
Jesse Washington Brutally Lynched in Waco, Texas
On May 15, 1916, after an all-white jury convicted Jesse Washington of the murder of a white woman, he was taken from the courtroom and burned alive in front of a mob of 15,000.
When he was accused of killing his employer's wife, seventeen-year-old Jesse Washington’ greatest fear was being brutally lynched - a common fate for black people accused of wrongdoing at that time, whether guilty or not. After he was promised protection against mob violence, Jesse, who suffered from intellectual disabilities, according to some reports, signed a statement confessing to the murder. On the morning of May 15, 1916, Washington was taken to court, convicted of murder, and sentenced to death in a matter of moments. Shortly before noon, spectators snatched him from the courtroom and dragged him outside, the “promise of protection” quickly forgotten.
The crowd gathered to watch and/or participate in the brutal lynching grew to 15,000. Jesse Washington was chained to a car while members of the mob ripped off his clothes, cut off his ear, and castrated him. The angry mob dragged his body from the courthouse to City Hall and a fire was prepared while several assailants repeatedly stabbed him. When they tied Jesse Washington to the tree underneath the mayor's window, the lynchers cut off his fingers to prevent him from trying to escape, then repeatedly lowered his lifeless body into the fire. At one point, a participant took a portion of Washington's torso and dragged it through the streets of Waco. During the lynching, a professional photographer took photos which were later made into postcards.
Following news reports of the lynching, the NAACP hired a special investigator, Elizabeth Freeman. She was able to learn the names of the five mob leaders and also gathered evidence that local law enforcement had done nothing to prevent the lynching. Nevertheless, no one was ever prosecuted for their participation in the lynching of Jesse Washington.
May 15th, 1970
Mississippi Police Fire on Protesting Jackson State College Students, Killing Two
Eleven days after National Guard troops fired into a crowd of unarmed anti-war protesters at Kent State University in Ohio, local and state police in Mississippi opened fire on a group of students at Jackson State College in Jackson. In a thirty-second barrage of gunfire, police fired 150 rounds into the crowd, killing two students and injuring dozens more.
On the evening of May 14th, students were gathered on Lynch Street, a road connecting the predominately black college campus to the more affluent white neighborhood in Jackson. Police reports allege that the students had been throwing rocks and bottles at passing white motorists; students and white motorists had a tense relationship because the white motorists would yell racial slurs and taunt the students as they passed. Later that evening, a person not believed to be a student set fire to a dump truck. When firemen arrived to respond, they called the police for protection from the gathering students.
Shortly after midnight, a glass bottle was thrown into the crowd of police; they responded by opening fire on the students and riddling a women’s dorm with bullets. Phillip Gibbs, 21, and James Green, 17, were killed. Officers later claimed a sniper in the women's dorm had shot at them first. The President's Commission on Campus Unrest later called the shootings an “unreasonable, unjustified overreaction,” but ultimately no one was charged. A local grand jury blamed the students, arguing that people who engage in civil disobedience must accept the risk of injury or death by law enforcement.
In 1974, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the officers had overreacted but they could not be held liable for the two deaths that resulted. In 1982, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the case.