WACO, Texas – On the 90th anniversary of a lynching that became known as the "Waco Horror," nearly 100 people gathered outside the county courthouse for the reading of a community group's resolution denouncing lynchings in the 1800s and early 1900s.
The Community Race Relations Coalition wants the city and county governments to adopt the resolution, which apologizes for the "failure of past leadership to uphold and defend lynching victims' most basic rights to life, liberty, and due process under the laws of our cherished democracy."
"Reconciliation is one of the greatest things we can do," coalition member Ed Bell told the gathering Monday. Bell is black and who played for the NFL's New York Jets from 1969-77. "When you find it in your heart to apologize, then and only then can you begin the healing process."
The City Council and McLennan County Commissioners Court were scheduled to discuss the resolution at their separate meetings Tuesday.
On May 15, 1916, a crowd of about 15,000 — half the town's population — cheered as a mob dragged a black 17-year-old from the courthouse, cut him with knives and dangled him over a fire. Jesse Washington had been convicted of killing a white woman who had been raped.
It was one of the few lynchings photographed in progress. Newspapers referred to it as the "Waco Horror" after the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's magazine published an article and the rare pictures, now displayed in the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn.
Of the more than 4,700 lynchings nationwide in that era, about 500 were in Texas.
So far the racially diverse coalition has obtained more than 800 signatures from residents supporting the resolution. Members say leaders should publicly acknowledge and apologize for the lynchings because lawmen allowed mobs to drag away the black men from jails or didn't try to stop them, thus denying victims their due legal process.
Opponents say leaders shouldn't apologize for something that happened before they were born.
Mayor Virginia DuPuy, who is white, said she believes the council will adopt a resolution condemning the lynchings but isn't sure if will have the same words — such as "apologize" — as the coalition's document.
"We're very interested and serious in addressing this issue," DuPuy said. "This is too important an issue to start being careless with the words we use."
Lester Gibson, the only black county commissioner, has said he doesn't expect the county to approve the resolution. In 2002, the group rejected a similar resolution Gibson drafted after officials restoring a courthouse mural about Waco's history refused to paint over or post an explanatory plaque near the image of a noose hanging from a tree.
Rabbi Gordon Fuller, one of the 14 people who read a paragraph of the 800-word resolution Monday, said a community apology is appropriate.
"By apologizing we are sorry for what happened; it doesn't mean we are guilty of the action itself," said Fuller, who is white. "I'm more concerned with education and how we move forward. Hatred is a taught behavior, and we have a responsibility to teach tolerance instead."