Washington was a mentally retarded seventeen-year-old boy. On May 8, 1916, lucy Fryer, a white woman, was murdered in Robinson, seven miles from Waco. Washington, a laborer on her farm, confessed to the murder. in a brief trial on May 15, the prosecution had only to present a murder weapon and Washington's confession. The jury deliberated for four minutes, and the guilty verdict was read to shouts of, "Get that Nigger!"

The boy was beaten and dragged to the suspension bridge spanning the Brazos River. Thousands roared, "Burn him!" Bonfire preparations were already under way in the public square, where Washington was beaten with shovels and bricks. Fifteen thousand men, women, and children packed the square. They climbed up poles and onto the tops of cars, hung from windows, and sat on each other's shoulders. Children were lifted by their parents into the air. Washington was castrated, and his ears were cut off. A tree supported the iron chain that lifted him above the fire of boxes and sticks. Wailing, the boy attempted to climb the skillet-hot chain. For this the men cut off his fingers. The executioners repeatedly lowered the boy into the flames and hoisted him out again. With each repetition, a mighty shout was raised.

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