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One family’s photo album includes images of a vacation, a wedding anniversary and the lynching of a Black man in Texas

One family’s photo album includes images of a vacation, a wedding anniversary and the lynching of a Black man in Texas

As a historian and director of the Lynching in Texas undertaking, which has documented extra than 600 racial terror lynchings, I get normal e-mail from journalists, scholars and activists who want to discuss the historical past of racial violence.

My discussions with reporters and historians did not put together me for 1 of the email messages I gained very last wintertime. The author, a Chicago memorabilia seller, offered to mail me a photograph album that included a picture from a Texas lynching.

I responded that I would recognize the prospect to evaluation the album and to support establish the sufferer.

About a week later on, I opened the envelope and located 5 photos, a tiny cartoon and a important labeled “Teddie’s images.”

Each of the pictures was numbered.

The to start with was a 6-by-5-inch impression of what appeared to be burning wood. It proved challenging to decipher. But the description clarified issues.

In this May possibly 27, 1922 photograph, the charred remains of Jesse Thomas are hardly seen.
Jeff Littlejohn

It go through: “Burning of negro in entrance of aged Town Hall, Waco, Texas.”

Revealing historical past classes

I right away set out to discover the target and to explore the tale powering “Teddie’s images.”

As I did so, I understood that what I was performing would be controversial, if not unlawful, experienced I been a K-12 teacher in Texas.

In fact, I was engaging in the very variety of historic examination that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Republican legislators in Texas want to ban from public educational institutions.

In 2021, for illustration, Texas Republicans enacted Senate Invoice 3 to prohibit K-12 educators from instructing that “slavery and racism are something other than deviations from … the genuine founding rules of the United States, which incorporate liberty and equality.”

In other words, this official point out interpretation holds that slavery, racism and racism’s deadly manifestation, lynching, did not provide as systemic forces that formed Texas historical past but ended up in its place aberrations with out any fundamental which means for Texans – or even past the state.

Dozens of men wearing hats have their heads down as they look at the site where three black men were burned at the stake.
Scene of the burnings of Johnny Cornish, Mose Jones and Snap Curry in Kirvin, Texas, on May perhaps 6,
1922.

Jeff Littlejohn

Teddie’s picture album, which also integrated pics of Teddie and her spouse undertaking typical, daily issues like riding donkeys and likely to wedding anniversary dinners, offered a immediate problem to this interpretation.

Racist mob terror

In truth, my exploration soon uncovered that the photos belonged to Mary “Teddie” Kemp, a white girl from Pennsylvania who moved with her partner, Gene Kemp, to Waco, Texas, in 1922.

This date proved vital, since it intended that the sufferer in Teddie’s picture album could not be Jesse Washington, the 17-yr-previous mentally handicapped young guy who was lynched in the infamous “Waco Horror” of 1916.

In that lynching, historian Patricia Bernstein writes, Washington was “beaten, stabbed, mutilated, hanged and burned to death on the Waco town square, in advance of an viewers of 10-15,000 screaming, cheering spectators.”

In actuality, the dates on the other photos in Teddie’s album produced it most likely that this image showed the burning of Jesse Thomas, a 23-yr-outdated Black man.

Thomas was wrongly accused of murdering W. Harrell Bolton and assaulting his woman companion, Margaret Hays, in close proximity to Waco on May well 25, 1922.

When Hays discovered Thomas as her possible assailant, a relative named Sam Harris shot and killed Thomas.

A white mob then dragged his system to Town Hall and burned it just before a group of several thousand men and women.

White supremacy in Texas

The identification of Jesse Thomas as the target in Teddie’s photo album only led to much more questions.

Why would an educated white girl from Pennsylvania consist of a image of a Black lynching target in a own image album?

A  white man and woman are seen riding on donkeys near a mountain waterfall.
In this Sept. 26, 1921, photograph, Mary ‘Teddie’ Kemp and her husband, Gene, are driving on donkeys at 7 Falls and South Cheyenne Cañon, Colo.
Jeffrey Littlejohn

Why would she choose her photographs out of chronological sequence and put the lynching photograph as the 1st photo in the album?

The solutions to these thoughts reveal a fantastic offer about Texas just 100 many years back.

In my perspective, the album exposes the priority that Anglo Texans – even new arrivals to the point out – positioned on white supremacy and Black subjugation.

Teddie very likely pasted the picture of Jesse Thomas’ burning body at the commencing of her album for the reason that it highlighted an electrifying, adrenaline-charged party that viscerally illustrated the nature of her new Texas residence.

An image of handwritten descriptions.
An image of Mary Kemp’s handwritten descriptions of her images.
Jeff Littlejohn

In fact, as historian William Carrigan has shown, white supremacy and racial violence served as main elements of the state’s identity.

Alongside one another, they established the prepared and unwritten guidelines governing the social get – who could vote, who could marry whom, who could show up at functions – and the supreme punishment for transgressing the rules.

Lynchings, like the 1 depicted in Teddie’s picture album, current a immediate obstacle to the whitewashed see of Texas background that Abbott and his Republican colleagues like.

Unspeakable violence

Lynchings transpired often in Texas – with 16 in 1922 by itself – and served as the most extreme and violent embodiment of white supremacy in the state in the course of the Jim Crow period.

When Black and Hispanic Texans dared to problem white authority or to claim for by themselves the rights of U.S. citizens, they confronted violence on a scale rarely witnessed in other elements of the nation.

A photograph published in a newspaper shows where three black men were burned at the stake.
In this image of a May 6, 1922, newspaper, a image caption reads ‘Where three Negroes have been burned at stake’ in Kirvin, Texas.
W.E.B. Du Bois Papers

In Might 1922, for example, white Texans carried out in 1 thirty day period at the very least 10 lynchings, much more lynchings than in any other point out but Georgia for the complete calendar year.

8 of the Texas victims killed in 1922 were being burned at the stake in a form of torture that most persons nowadays associate with the so-called Dark Ages.

But these horrific acts transpired in modern Texas, just a few generations ago. And white persons caught the events on movie and put the pictures in their own household albums.

A person hundred many years ago, the lynching of Black adult males and women in Texas was not an aberration. It proved the rule. You could say white supremacist rule.

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