Jesse Washington, May 1916. Burned alive in Waco, Washington was then dragged through the streets and hung on display in the nearby black community of Robinson, Texas. \(From vided some wooden crossties to use for the bonfire, and two local ministers offered a public prayer. A druggist opened his store and served the crowd soft drinks. Some parents brought their children along to watch. After the fire was extinguished, members of the crowd picked out little pieces of bone from the ashes, to take home as souvenirs. It didn’t stop there. The following day the body of another King field hand was found hanging from a tree, riddled with bullets, and for the next three weeks a wave of racist killings terrorized Freestone County. Much of the violence seems to have been orchestrated by the King family, although some residents remembered the area suddenly being overrun by armed white men from out of town, “sort of like professionals,” according to one of Akers’ informants. While local papers only reported two more deaths, a white resident estimated that as many as a dozen blacks were murdered during this period. A black resident claimed the final number was twenty-seven. One witness recalled driving between Fairfield and Mexia during this period when he came across a black man tied to a tree, surrounded by a crowd of men who were taking turns shooting at his ears and his nose with their pistols. The madness ended only after a posse led by three of the King brothers attacked the small African-American settlement of Simsboro, just outside of Kirven. There they met armed resistance organized by one of the residents, who had fought in France during World War I. In the ensuing gun battle, two blacks and two posse members were killed. The deaths of two white men provoked immediate calls for an end to the bloodshed, and prompted county officials to organize a mass meeting and produce a resolution declaring, “the killing and terrorizing of Negroes in the county must now cease.” The King family issued a public statement declaring that all guilty parties had been punished to their satisfaction but the riding plow upon which the three men had died remained undisturbed in the center of the Kirven business district for more than twenty years. During World War II an enterprising farmer and his teenage son hauled it away and sold it for scrap metal. /n the first half of Akers’ book, he relates all of the foregoing events in a straightforward fashion, supported by the standard forms of historical research: newspaper accounts, official records, and in terviews with surviving witnesses. In the second half, however, Akers takes his readers back over the evidence piece by piece, to provide an alternative and even more disturbing version of events. And while Akers makes an ill-advised attempt to tease a little suspense out of his investigations, this is no murder mystery that can provide the reader a pleasant shock of recognition upon the solving of the case. Insted, most of Akers’ readers will experience a sickening sense of inevitability when he finally lays out his conclusion: that innocent men were burned alive that night in Kirven, and that some of those involved in the lynching were fully aware of that fact. Actually, Akers possessed a key piece of information almost from the start of his investigation, although he did not realize it until years later. One of his first interviews was with an elderly black lady who worked for the Kings as a house servant, and she made a guarded but unmistakable reference to the fact that the Kings believed that the actual murderers of Eula Ausley were two white men members of a neighboring family named Prowell, who previously conducted a bitter and occasionally violent feud with one of the King brothers over a disputed property line. Akers admits he simply ignored the old woman’s testimony until he ran across an account of the burnings published in the New York Call. The Call article noted that on the day of the lynching, Sheriff Mayo had arrested two white men for the crime, after following a clearly marked trail of footprints from the scene of murder to their farmhouse, but released them once Curry, Jones, and Cornish were seized by the mob. A little more digging by Akers turns up the source for the article: a previously unknown report on the incident compiled by an undercover investigator, Dan Kelly, a white man hired by the N.A.A.C.P. According to the report, John King
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