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State Approves Jesse Washington Historical Marker

A painting in McLennan County Courthouse features a hanging tree and noose.

It’s been roughly 3 months since groups in the city remembered the 100-year anniversary of the Waco Horror, the lynching of Jesse Washington. And now the Texas Historical Commission has approved of a historical marker for the tragedy.

The application for the marker was submitted earlier this yearand had community support, ranging from city officials to the McLennan County Historical Commission, and the Texas Historical Commission approved it just last month. 

But it isn’t the first time that the idea for a Jesse Washington historical marker has been brought up. 

In 2006, as the city approached the 90th anniversary of the Jesse Washington lynching, groups in Waco were trying to figure out how to appropriately remember the gruesome event. Some ideas like resolutions, or a marker were met with stringent opposition. Jo Welter is with the Community Race Relations Coalition, which led many of those efforts including, most recently, a memorial for the 100-year anniversary of the lynching. She says by ignoring this part of Waco’s history, we’re not allowing the city to move forward.

"If you have an abscess anywhere on your body, you can get it to heal over," Welter says, comparing the city's past to a sore, "but it’s not really healed because the infection is still inside, you have to open that wound."

The main difference, Welter says, between 2006 and 2016 is a larger community effort and overall interest in acknowledging the city’s difficult and racist past. Former city councilwoman Toni Herbert, along with the CRRC, spearheaded the campaign to apply for a historical marker.  

"I was interested because other people had been interested and I thought it was the right thing to do," Herbert recalled. "I don’t think you aught to excise parts of your history just because you don’t like them, and because I know there’s still a lot of pain in this community. Jesse Washington still has a lot of family here."

Herbert says when the Marker is eventually unveiled, she thinks the it will say that things have change but that the community needed to acknowledge the events of the Waco Horror in order to heal and move forward. 

There are two ways to get a historical marker in the state. The first, and somewhat, traditional route is for a county’s historical commission to suggest a marker for a site, an event or subject matter. The state’s historical commission would then review the application and determine its feasibility. Now the other route, which is how the Jesse Washington historical marker was eventually approved, is part of THC’s under told stories program. Through this track, anyone in state can suggest a marker; regardless of whether they live in the county it would be placed. Chris Florance is with the state’s historical commission.

“We really are trying to preserve all these stories that have made Texas what it is and contributed to this place that’s so exceptional and unique," Florance said, adding that the idea of the under told stories program is to record the state’s entire history – both good and bad.

“So certainly we highlight the good stories and also things that have been tragic or have sort of illustrated some of the history of division and conflict that has existed also in the course of the state.”

The state’s historical marker program is currently researching information for the marker and hopes to write up the text for it by the end of the year. If all goes well says Florance, the Jesse Washington historical maker will join the more than 16,000 markers  that are already in the state sometime this coming Spring.