Yes, ISIS Burned a Man Alive: But White Americans Did the Same to Thousands of Black Americans
February 10, 2015
Chancey de Vega / The Daily Kos & Bill Moyers / Bill Moyers.com
When ISIS burned Muadh al Kasasbeh, a captured Jordian fighter pilot, to death, Washington denounced the act as savagery, barbarism, and wanton cruelty -- something from the "dark ages" and not of the modern world. But for almost a century, the US practiced a unique cultural ritual that involved the ceremonial torture, murder -- and yes, burning alive -- of black Americans by whites. And images of the spectacular lynchings and burnng of black bodies were shared via postcards and other media.
Yes, ISIS Burned a Man Alive: White Americans Did the Same Thing to Black People by the Thousands
Chancey de Vega / The Daily Kos
(February 4, 2015) -- ISIS burned Muadh al Kasasbeh, a captured Jordian fighter pilot, to death. They doused him with an accelerant. His captors set him on fire. Muadh al Kasasbeh desperately tried to put out the flames. ISIS recorded Muadh al Kasasbeh's immolation, produced a video designed to intimidate their enemies, and then circulated it online.
ISIS's burning alive of Muadh al Kasasbeh has been denounced as an act of savagery, barbarism, and wanton cruelty -- one from the "dark ages" and not of the modern world.
American Exceptionalism blinds those who share its gaze to uncomfortable facts and truths about their own country.
For almost a century, the United States practiced a unique cultural ritual that was as least as gruesome as the "medieval" punishments meted out by ISIS against its foes.
What is now known as "spectacular lynching" involved the ceremonial torture, murder -- and yes, burning alive -- of black Americans by whites. Like ISIS's use of digital media to circulate images of the torturous death of Muadh al Kasasbeh by fire, the spectacular lynchings of the black body were shared via postcards and other media.
In fact, the burned to death images of the black body were one of the most popular types of mass culture in 19th and 20th century America.
This account of the horrific murder of Sam Hose by White Americans is an even more grotesque and exaggerated version of the cruelty visited upon Muadh al Kasasbeh by ISIS:
The white-owned newspapers of the South had long gorged themselves with exaggerated or fabricated accounts of such violence. In the papers' version, the fight between Sam Hose and his boss became transformed into the most enraging crime of all: the rape of the white man's wife.
White Georgians tracked Hose down and prepared for his lynching. Two thousand people gathered for the killing, some taking a special excursion train from Atlanta for the purpose.
The leaders of the lynching stripped Hose, chained him to a tree, stacked wood around him, and soaked everything in kerosene. The mob cut off Hose's ears, fingers and genitals; they peeled the skin from his face. They watched, a newspaper reported, ''with unfeigning satisfaction'' as the man's veins ruptured from the heat and his blood hissed in the flames.
''Oh, my God! Oh, Jesus,'' were the only words Hose could manage. When he finally died, the crowd cut his heart and liver from his body, sharing the pieces among themselves, selling fragments of bone and tissue to those unable to attend. No one wore a disguise, no one was punished.
The murder of Jessie Washington is a genius work in white on black violence, far worse than the wickedness of ISIS's acts against Muadh al Kasasbeh:
"Great masses of humanity flew as swiftly as possible through the streets of the city in order to be present at the bridge when the hanging took place, but when it was learned that the Negro was being taken to the City Hall law, crowds of men, women and children turned and hastened to the lawn."
"On the way to the scene of the burning people on every hand took a hand in showing their feelings in the matter by striking the Negro with anything obtainable, some struck him with shovels, bricks, clubs, and others stabbed him and cut him until when he was strung up his body was a solid color of red, the blood of the many wounds inflicted covered him from head to foot."
"Dry goods boxes and all kinds of inflammable material were gathered, and it required but an instant to convert this into seething flames. When the Negro was first hoisted into the air his tongue protruded from his mouth and his face was besmeared with blood."
"Life was not extinct within the Negro's body, although nearly so, when another chain was placed around his neck and thrown over the limb of a tree on the lawn, everybody trying to get to the Negro and have some part in his death. The infuriated mob then leaned the Negro, who was half alive and half dead, against the tree, he having just strength enough within his limbs to support him.
As rapidly as possible the Negro was then jerked into the air at which a shout from thousands of throats went up on the morning air and dry goods boxes, excelsior, wood and every other article that would burn was then in evidence, appearing as if by magic. A huge dry goods box was then produced and filled to the top with all of the material that had been secured.
The Negro's body was swaying in the air, and all of the time a noise as of thousands was heard and the Negro's body was lowered into the box." "No sooner had his body touched the box than people pressed forward, each eager to be the first to light the fire, matches were touched to the inflammable material and as smoke rapidly rose in the air, such a demonstration as of people gone mad was never heard before. Everybody pressed closer to get souvenirs of the affair. When they had finished with the Negro his body was mutilated."
"Fingers, ears, pieces of clothing, toes and other parts of the Negro's body were cut off by members of the mob that had crowded to the scene as if by magic when the word that the Negro had been taken in charge by the mob was heralded over the city.
As the smoke rose to the heavens, the mass of people, numbering in the neighborhood of 10,000 crowding the City Hall law and overflowing the square, hanging from the windows of buildings, viewing the scene from the tops of buildings and trees, set up a shout that was heard blocks away."
Many thousands of black Americans were killed by white lynchers in the United States.
The spectacular lynching was a ceremony (it was not something random or spontaneous; the acts of a few out for black blood possessed insane white people), with distinct practices, that symbolically purged the black body from the white polity in an era of formal white supremacy:
The actual process of lynching was morbid and incredibly violent. Lynching does not necessarily mean hanging. It often included humiliation, torture, burning, dismemberment and castration. Victims were beaten and whipped, many times in front of large crowds that sometimes numbered in the thousands. Coal tar was frequently used to douse the unfortunate victim prior to setting him afire.
Onlookers sometimes fired rifles and handguns hundreds of times into the corpse while people cheered and children played during the festivities. Pieces of the corpse were taken by onlookers as souvenirs of the event .
Such was the case when James Irwin was lynched on January 31, 1930. Irwin was accused of the murder of a white girl in the town of Ocilla, Georgia. Taken into custody by a rampaging mob, his fingers and toes were cut off, his teeth pulled out by pliers and finally he was castrated. It still wasn't enough. Irwin was then burned alive in front of hundreds of onlookers (Brundage, p. 42).
No one was ever punished for this barbaric killing. Black victims were hacked to death, dragged behind cars , burned, beaten, whipped, sometimes shot thousands of times, mutilated; the savagery was astonishing. How could ordinary people participate in such brutality?
The rendering of spectacular violence against non-whites paid a psychological wage to white people that helped to create a type of social cement for White America, one that covered up its own intra-group tensions of class, religion, and gender. This racial logic continues in the present with a racially discriminatory criminal justice system, the murder by police of black and brown people, and how white Americans support such unfair treatment.
American politicians and other opinion leaders have denounced ISIS and the death by fire meted out to Muadh al Kasasbeh.
Would they apply the same standards to white Americans who committed mass violence against African-Americans through lynchings, racial pogroms, and other like deeds?
Would they support reparations as a material gesture of apology for such crimes?
Would white folks, on both sides of the ideological divide, condemn their ancestors who participated in such types of violence?
Will White America ever be willing to fully own its historic ISIS-like behavior against African-Americans and other people of color, and how such violence created the present, where neighborhoods are hyper-segregated, there exists a huge wage and income gap along the color line, and by almost every measure, black and brown Americans have significantly diminished life chances relative to white people?
Violence is a human trait. ISIS's burning alive of Muadh al Kasasbeh is an act of barbarism.
However, we cannot overlook how the United States has conducted master classes in violence and barbarism both before, during, and since its founding . . . and yes, much of this violence was against people of color whose labor, lives, land, and freedom were stolen to create American empire.
The Fiery Cage and the Lynching Tree,
Brutality is Never Far Away
Bill Moyers / Bill Moyers.com & The Daily Kos
(February 6, 2015) -- They burned him alive in an iron cage, and as he screamed and writhed in the agony of hell they made a sport of his death.
After listening to one newscast after another rightly condemn the barbaric killing of that Jordanian air force pilot at the bloody hands of ISIS, I couldn't sleep. My mind kept roaming the past trying to retrieve a vaguely remembered photograph that I had seen long ago in the archives of a college library in Texas.
Suddenly, around two in the morning, the image materialized in my head. I made my way down the hall to my computer and typed in: "Waco, Texas. Lynching."
Sure enough, there it was: the charred corpse of a young black man, tied to a blistered tree in the heart of the Texas Bible Belt. Next to the burned body, young white men can be seen smiling and grinning, seemingly jubilant at their front-row seats in a carnival of death. One of them sent a picture postcard home: "This is the barbeque we had last night. My picture is to the left with a cross over it. Your son, Joe."
The victim's name was Jesse Washington. The year was 1916. America would soon go to war in Europe "to make the world safe for democracy." My father was twelve, my mother eight. I was born 18 years later, at a time, I would come to learn, when local white folks still talked about Washington's execution as if it were only yesterday.
This was not medieval Europe. Not the Inquisition. Not a heretic burned at the stake by some ecclesiastical authority in the Old World. This was Texas, and the white people in that photograph were farmers, laborers, shopkeepers, some of them respectable congregants from local churches in and around the growing town of Waco.
Here is the photograph. Take a good look at Jesse Washington's stiffened body tied to the tree. He had been sentenced to death for the murder of a white woman. No witnesses saw the crime; he allegedly confessed but the truth of the allegations would never be tested.
The grand jury took just four minutes to return a guilty verdict, but there was no appeal, no review, no prison time. Instead, a courtroom mob dragged him outside, pinned him to the ground, and cut off his testicles.
A bonfire was quickly built and lit. For two hours, Jesse Washington -- alive -- was raised and lowered over the flames. Again and again and again. City officials and police stood by, approvingly. According to some estimates, the crowd grew to as many as 15,000. There were taunts, cheers and laughter. Reporters described hearing "shouts of delight."
When the flames died away, Washington's body was torn apart and the pieces were sold as souvenirs. The party was over.
Many years later, as a young man, I visited Waco's Baylor University, often referred to as the Texas Baptist Vatican. I had been offered a teaching position there.
I sat for a while in the school's Armstrong Browning Library, one of the most beautiful in America, containing not only the works of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the acclaimed Victorian poets, but also stained glass windows, marble columns, and elegant ceilings that bring to mind the gorgeous interior of Michelangelo's Laurentian library in Florence.
Sitting there, I found it hard to reconcile the beauty and quiet of that sanctuary with the photograph that I had been shown earlier by a man named Harry Provence, publisher of the local newspaper.
Seeing it, I realized that as young Jesse Washington was being tortured, students his own age, some of them studying for the ministry, were just finishing their spring semester. In 1905, when another black man had been lynched in Waco, Baylor's president became a leader of the anti-lynching movement. But ugly memories still divided the town.
Jesse Washington was just one black man to die horribly at the hands of white death squads. Between 1882 and 1968 -- 1968! -- there were 4,743 recorded lynchings in the US. About a quarter of them were white people, many of whom had been killed for sympathizing with black folks.
My father, who was born in 1904 near Paris, Texas, kept in a drawer that newspaper photograph from back when he was a boy of thousands of people gathered as if at a picnic to feast on the torture and hanging of a black man in the center of town. On a journey tracing our roots many years later, my father choked and grew silent as we stood near the spot where it had happened.
Yes, it was hard to get back to sleep the night we heard the news of the Jordanian pilot's horrendous end. ISIS be damned! I thought. But with the next breath I could only think that our own barbarians did not have to wait at any gate. They were insiders. Home grown. Godly. Our neighbors, friends, and kin. People like us.
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