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tyler davis.
god of the whirlwind

cohort. 2022-2023

project. God of the Whirlwind: An Archive of a Black Waco Oral Tradition

location. Waco, TX

epigraph1

CONTENT NOTE: racist violence, lynching

To this day in Waco, if you’re with the right people during an especially bad storm, or if you listen to the chatter of students as they practice a tornado drill, you might hear the story of Jesse Washington. While living in the city for nearly a decade, friends imparted to me an oral tradition that has been passed on, generation to generation, grandmothers to grandchildren, for the better part of a century. Irrevocably, deadly weather became associated with the deadlier climate of racism through a religious narrative told by Black Wacoans. The story details how a tornado in 1953 vindicated those whose lives were upended by Jesse Washington’s lynching in 1916. I spoke with a number of Black Wacoans in the summer of 2022 about the oral tradition, bearing witness to how it is remembered today. All who reflected upon the whirlwind story shared, in different ways, how the story enables Black Wacoans to see anew the meaning of their sufferings and strivings and to imagine a different future. What follows represents a snapshot of the archive of this Black Waco oral tradition as it survives and is told today.

1916.

Jesse Washington, a seventeen-year-old Black farm laborer in Robinson, Texas, just outside Waco, was arrested on the charge of murdering Lucy Fryer, a white woman and the wife of his employer, on May 8th, 1916. At every turn the following week, Washington’s fate was determined by the Jim Crow racial script: in custody in Dallas, police extracted a confession from Washington, a teenager who likely had intellectual disabilities; under public pressure a trial was hastily set for May 15th and Washington was rushed back to Waco where he was being held to avoid the gathering mobs; the defense made no substantial effort to advocate on his behalf during the trial; the jury delivered a guilty verdict after four minutes of deliberation; Washington was sentenced to death. If not for the mob that seized and lynched Washington upon the announcement of the guilty verdict, he almost certainly would have been executed by the state of Texas shortly thereafter.[1]

note 1

As Reverend George Oliver puts it, an “event that lasted a few minutes had a residue that endured generations.” In a region conditioned by routine and spectacle forms of antiblack racism, Washington’s lynching was yet another trauma in the transgenerational currents. LaRue Dorsey, a leading educator in East Waco for decades, remembers the terrorizing effect the lynching had on her family, as her “step daddy left town because he thought they were going to hang him next. He was like sixteen at that time. And he was afraid.” 

note2

Activist and Waco NAACP leader Linda Jann Lewis insists on remembering that “Jesse Washington wasn’t the first,” since this act of white supremacist violence reflected the “recreational” brutality of the regional plantation regime.[2] For Nona Kirkpatrick, the invocation of Washington calls to mind her great uncle, Sank Majors, who was lynched in Waco in 1905 in another act of racial terror. 

Over the years, many memories of lynching have been held in silence, belonging to what Rosemarie Harding called “the things-too-terrible-to-talk about.”[3] And still, other Black Wacoans found them too-terrible-not-to-talk-about. Speaking of and against lynching played a dynamic role for parts of the Black Waco community. These remembrances enabled Black Wacoans to preserve memories and process compounding traumas, produce historical knowledge for understanding enduring racial regimes, and, as Kirkpatrick observes, stories of lynching held a didactic role, becoming allegories of protection to warn Black children about the dangers of white supremacy. Anthony Fulbright summarizes the message: “we’re gonna tell you this because we’re looking out for your safety.”

note3

Beyond the Waco community, another powerful response to Washington’s lynching emerged in writings of W.E.B. Du Bois. Based on Elisabeth Freeman’s reporting, Du Bois first addressed Washington’s lynching in the pages of The Crisis, where he referred to it as “the Waco Horror” (1916). There Du Bois argued that, hardly provincial to Texas or the South, the persistence of lynching represented a large-scale disaster that demanded the immediate passage of anti-lynching legislation. Following Du Bois’s lead, NAACP organizers made Washington’s lynching the focal point of the anti-lynching campaign, circulating photographs of the event that were taken by local documentarian, Fred Gildersleeve, to advocate their legal strategy. The images depicting the spectacle of racial violence were then immediately re-appropriated for antiracist purposes in the efforts of the anti-lynching crusade before the First World War. A similar use of the photographs is depicted in Spike Lee’s 2018 film, BlacKkKlansmen, when Harry Belafonte’s character, Jerome Turner, mobilizes a younger generation of Black activists by telling them the story of the Waco Horror while surrounded by Gildersleeve’s lynching photographs.

Du Bois would return to the topic of the Waco Horror again in “Jesus Christ in Texas.” Originally published as “Jesus Christ in Georgia” (1911), Du Bois adapted the story for reprint in Darkwater (1920), renaming it “Jesus Christ in Texas” and thus shifting the geography of the narrative. “It was in Waco, Texas,” the new opening line reads (70). With this, Du Bois intentionally linked the message of this story to the lynching of Washington. 

Here Du Bois drew from the deep wells of Black religion to critique the lynching regime. The story unfolds as a “stranger,” the narrative’s figure of Jesus Christ, appears in Waco and encounters characters who are differently stratified in the Jim Crow universe. Hidden from the white elite, the stranger’s true divine identity is only recognized by the dispossessed: including children, a Black convict, and a Black butler. These dynamics culminate in apocalypse: when the Black convict is lynched by a white mob for a fabricated crime, the stranger’s messianic identity is revealed to all, as he appears “quivering and burning [on] a great crimson cross” (77). The revelation displays an image of divine solidarity. The stranger does not await the repentance of members of the white lynch mob; his eyes remain fixed upon the victim of the lynching, the Black convict, to whom he promises salvation. 

James Cone writes in The Cross and the Lynching Tree that Du Bois’s “Jesus Christ in Texas” demonstrates his considerable theological creativity. “Du Bois led the way,” Cone observes, by connecting “Calvary with the lynching tree in the American experience” (108). The resonance with the locale of Washington’s lynching further concretizes the story’s meaning. The lynching of the Black convict may be read as representing the Waco Horror, and the messianic stranger’s unequivocal solidarity with him suggests the parallel connection between Christ crucified and Washington lynched. What emerges in Du Bois’s story is then a categorical critique of the lynching regime, specifically the Waco Horror, on the basis of Christ’s total identification with lynched victims.

1953.

A generation later, Black Wacoans began telling a different story about the lynching of Jesse Washington. Like Du Bois’s “Jesus Christ in Texas,” Black Wacoans would utilize religious imagination to narrate opposition to regimes of lynching. Indeed, the new story emerged from vital religious cultures that have long characterized Black Waco, despite the history of enclosure, dispossession, and white racism.

note4

Almost exactly thirty-seven years after the Waco Horror, on May 11th, 1953, a devastating tornado wreaked havoc across the Central Texas landscape. Mary Denkins remembers in detail her father rushing in his Ford Model A truck to pick her up early from the all-Black Moore High School. When Denkins arrived home, her mother delivered a deliberate prophecy to her and her siblings: “God is fixin’ to work, so you all be quiet.”[4] Anthony Fulbright vividly recounts the storm: “It started raining…And then it stopped raining. And it started lightning and thundering. And then it got dark. Like darker than–blacker than a hundred midnights down in the Cypress swamps.”

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Even with disaster at the doorstep, the protocols of Jim Crow segregation did not subside. Bettie Beard’s mother was in downtown Waco searching for shelter as the storm approached. She remembers her mother reporting the terror of being denied refuge at segregated businesses: “It’s dark, and the storm is here. You want shelter, but they don’t open the door at this building, or they won’t open the door at that building.” Beard’s mother eventually found safety just as the tornado began bulldozing its way through the city, decimating everything in its path. 

One of the worst storms in the history of the region, the damage was catastrophic. One hundred fourteen people died and thousands were injured. The devastation, which is estimated to have caused around $51 million dollars in property damage (in 1953), would radically reshape the future of the city. Memories of the terrible storm persist to this day through the stories of Waco residents, the scars left on downtown brick buildings, and numerous public memorials.  

Following the disaster, an emergent, Black religious oral tradition began to circulate in Waco. Black Wacoans saw a connection between the meteorological disaster and the lynching of Washington. Both “disasters” occurred in mid-May and, more important still, the tornado seemingly retraced the very path the lynching had taken through the heart of the city. Anthony Fulbright details how “the tornado came through there and wiped out Bridge Street and everything down through there, where [Washington] got hung. That tornado took that same path down through there.” 

note5

Adding to the sense that something more was going on in this storm was the fact that it subverted another local tradition which claimed Waco was protected from severe weather by its geography, as though the city were providentially shielded by the Brazos River, el Río de los Brazos de Dios.

The whirlwind arrived, nevertheless. And while white Wacoans have struggled to make sense of the destruction, with certain memorials raising questions of tragedy and theodicy, for many Black Wacoans, the meaning of the whirlwind was almost immediately apparent.[5

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Far from a mere natural disaster, the storm represented a sign of poetic and, indeed, divine justice for the lynching of Washington. Bettie Beard concisely summarizes the emergent tradition: “God brought the tornado here because they lynched him.” Reverend Michael Babers recalls hearing his grandfather’s rendition: “We all knew [the tornado] happened. And we thought to ourselves, ‘Well, we had been wronged once. But we weren’t going to be wronged again because the Lord got vengeance for us’.”  

Black Wacoans thus narrated the whirlwind as the hand of God revisiting the scene of Washington’s subjection in a powerful unveiling of divine justice. “A lot of Black folks to this day, myself included, feel like that tornado was God's way of getting justice,” Stevie Walker-Webb remarks. “Not just for poor Jesse but for an entire generation of Black people who grew up with racism and the legacy of slavery and sharecropping on their neck…You know that that tornado was God speaking. It was the mouth of God, the hand of God, if you will.” 

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Like Du Bois, Black Wacoans articulated a religious response to the injustice of the Waco Horror. However, where the tradition of Du Bois emphasizes the divine solidarity that follows from recognizing the inseparable link between the cross and the lynching tree, the Black Waco tradition speaks of divine justice in terms of the interruptive character of severe weather. The destructive storm became an emblem of judgment, the whirlwind a reaping of what whites had sown with the lynching of Washington. 

The storm story circulated within and beyond the Black Waco community. Bettie Beard recounts the tradition traveling as far as Houston and California through family stories. “You may not think that even your young family members know the story. But everybody knows.” Furthermore, not every iteration of the tornado tradition is linked to the lynching of Jesse Washington. In the version told by Nona Kirkpatrick’s family, the tornado is said to have followed the same path that Sank Majors–Kirkpatrick’s great uncle–was lynched. 

lewis

It’s not clear what direct role established Black churches played in the circulation of the tradition in Waco–a city Linda Jann Lewis refers to as the “Vatican City of Baptists.” What is clear is that the tradition has not depended on official ecclesial authorization, having traveled at lower frequencies throughout the Black Waco community. Stevie Walker-Webb speculates that its transmission outside the church may be due to the fact that there’s so “much magic in just Jesse Washington’s story.” “But everywhere else, after church at the buffet, you know, like [we heard it] everywhere else, but not within the church proper.”[6

The tradition survives in Black Waco today, having been passed down across generations. For many Black Wacoans, the 1916 lynching is inseparable from the 1953 tornado; one cannot be told without reference to the other. 

note6

2022.

How do Black Wacoans theorize the significance of the oral tradition of the whirlwind today? Some reflect on the story as a unique way of keeping the memory of lynching alive, which may serve as a means for learning about historical injustices as well as for working through trauma caused by antiblack racism. Less compelled by the religious elements of the tornado story, others offer certain criticisms, displaying how, far from a static or uncritical transmission, the tradition is itself a site of dissonance and contestation. Bettie Beard, who grew up in a community saturated by this storytelling tradition, now registers the concern that the “mythic” dimensions of the oral tradition may get in the way of, or distract from, concrete struggles for justice.  For Beard, “what’s more important” than a story about divine vindication through the weather “is that we…have the facts [about historical lynchings].” Nona Kirkpatrick, whose family circulated a version of the story linking the tornado to the lynching of Sank Majors, hesitates to speak of divine justice due to the fact that she remembers friends who died or who lost family members in the tornado. For Kirkpatrick, the tragic loss of life challenges theological narratives about the storm. 

Still, other Black Wacoans maintain that the whirlwind story empowers under and against the violent hierarchies of race. Reflecting on the meaning of the story for younger Black Wacoans, Ramad Carter hears a tale of ancestral protection. “Waco needed a wake-up call,” Carter contends. “I think that when you hurt black people—African folks—you anger the ancestors. They come back for revenge. It may not be instantaneous, but at some point, that energy from that comes and manifests itself. I really believe that that’s what the tornado was.” For Carter, the tornado story is not primarily about warning Black Wacoans to look out for their safety among whites, as the story of Jesse Washington’s lynching functioned for an earlier generation of Black Wacoans. Instead, it is a story of the way the ancestors have already, in the past, been looking out for Black Wacoans and will continue to do so in the future. 

Considering what the story meant for his grandmother, Stevie Walker-Webb comments: “You know, God is used so often to justify brutality. And so I think that’s probably the most shining example for the oppressed people, the Black folks in Waco, of the one-time God had our back.” Similarly, Reverend Oliver clarifies that the power of the story for many Black Wacoans is not due to the fact “that people died.” It has to do instead with the fact “that God had something to say about [Washington’s lynching]. That God wasn’t silent on the story.” Where Du Bois focuses on God’s identification with the victims of racial terror lynchings, as exemplified by “Jesus Christ in Texas,” the Black Waco tradition shifts attention to the community that remained, to the people who kept and grieved and endured the memory of lynching. Beneath the destructive element of the whirlwind’s indictment of racist brutality, the story’s creative power is the message that God did not forget the suffering and striving of this community, the dignity of their endurance having received apocalyptic affirmation in the storm.

But the significance of the tradition is not exhausted by its confrontation with the past. As several narrators indicate, the tornado is a portent of what the future may hold. Reverend Babers expresses this aspect in terms of divine warning. “You really don’t want it to be left up to God…If you sow a negative seed [it] will grow into something that will be harmful for everybody. You know, the seed reaping what you sow.” Babers has actively heeded the warning in his extensive organizing as part of the Community Race Relations Coalition. The seventeen-year-long grassroots efforts of the CRRC has involved developing official forms of acknowledgment for city authorities’ complicity in lynching and culminated in February 2023 with the dedication of a Texas State Historical marker memorializing the Waco Horror near City Hall [7].

As divine warning, the tradition resonates with the spirit of The Fire Next Time–words James Baldwin borrowed for the title of his book from the spiritual “Mary, Don’t You Weep.” To avoid the whirlwind next time, Walker-Webb insists, the city will have to remove the “economic noose” that remains–overturning those neoplantation values that lead to “divestment in poor communities” and have “a relationship to the racial attitudes that allowed that kind of atrocity to happen in 1916.” The whirlwind becomes, then, an urgent sign both of the need to overcome all constrictions that stifle the breath of whole segments of the community and to build conditions for the common flourishing of all.

The Black Waco oral tradition surrounding the tornado is as dynamic as the people who tell it. Those who keep, contest, and share the story offer diverse theorizations of its significance. While some Black Wacoans suspect that the religious elements may distract from the real stuff of justice organizing or worry that the tradition does not adequately acknowledge the tragic loss of life that occurred in the tornado disaster, others see in the tradition the consolation of divine vindication, the empowerment of ancestral protection, and the fierce urgency of divine warning. The Black Waco oral tradition survives, then, not as one story focused on a single historical event but as many stories with just as many theorizations all of which are committed to remembrances of the past as they bear upon the present and future.

In place of a unified theory about the whirlwind story, what binds those who carry the tradition together, storytellers and skeptics alike, is the collective spirit inspiring the struggle to remember the victims of lynching, to confront residual forms of neoplantation power, and so to build a different future. The enduring power of the story of the whirlwind is its provision of a language to transport and activate this spirit, making it a living resource for all people who are invested in renewing the struggle for justice. In speaking of the whirlwind, Black Wacoans do not merely keep this oral tradition alive, they impart to new generations a language and spirit of great magnitude to catalyze efforts to discern the truth of the place they live and remake it according to just ways of living.

note7a

notes.

[1] The details and graphic description of Washington’s lynching have been widely reproduced and so will not be here. For a full reconstruction of events, see William D. Carrigan, The Making of a Lynching Culture: Violence and Vigilantism in Central Texas, 1836-1916 (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004).

[2] The language of “recreational” is borrowed from the late Lester Gibson, the longtime McLennan County Commissioner and the first Black commissioner since Reconstruction. See Gibson, Interview by Richard H. Fair, July 7, 2008, in Waco, Texas, transcript Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, Texas, available online at https://digitalcollections-baylor.quartexcollections.com/Documents/Detail/oral-memoirs-of-lester-l.-gibson-transcript/1599043?item=1599047, 4.

[3] Rosemarie Freeney Harding with Rachel Elizabeth Harding, Remnants: A Memoir of Spirit, Activism, and Mothering (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015), 20.

[4] William Carrigan Interview with Mary Denkins, January 11, 1994, in Waco, Texas. Available at the Baylor University Institute for Oral History.

[5] While the Black Waco oral tradition reflects regional cultural formations in many respects, the impulse to interpret natural signs and portents belongs to broader Black theological and religious traditions. See, for example, James Cone’s insistence upon discerning “concrete signs” of divine presence and activity in The Cross and the Lynching Tree (155). Additionally, consult Yvonne P. Chireau’s Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjure Tradition (Berkley: University of California Press, 2003) for description of Black religious conjure traditions attuned to the natural world. Noteworthy in Chireau’s study is Charles H. Mason’s sermon on a deadly tornado storm in 1925, which Mason preaches as the strange work of God (Black Magic, 109). Along these lines, see as well the powerful example of Harriet Powers’ quilt stories weaving together natural phenomena and biblical stories. The Black Waco oral tradition also parallels other Texas religious traditions, including especially an ethnic Mexican oral tradition in Rocksprings that reads a devastating 1927 tornado as God’s deliberate retribution for the lynching of Antonio Rodríguez. See Monica Muñoz Martinez, The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018), 30-75.

[6] The distinction between church proper and the buffet line opens up a larger conversation about the boundaries constituting the church. Indeed, Jualynne E. Dodson and Cheryl Townsend Gilkes submit that meals and meetings might be regarded as just as much “church” as sermons and worship services. See Dodson and Townsend Gilkes, “‘There’s Nothing Like Church Food’: Food and the U. S. Afro-Christian Tradition: Re-Membering Community and Feeding the Embodied S/spirit(s),” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, vol. 63, no. 3 (1995): 519-538.

[7] For description of the event, see Rhiannon Saegert, “Crowd Gathers to Dedicate Jesse Washington Marker, Reflect on Legacy of Lynching,” Waco Tribune-Herald, February 12, 2023,  https://wacotrib.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/crowd-gathers-to-dedicate-jesse-washington-marker-reflect-on-legacy-of-lynching/article_74301e0a-ab39-11ed-bdec-6fcef29ac2f4.html

[8] See, for instance, Carrigan, “Interview with Mary Denkins”; Maggie Langham Washington, “Oral Memoirs of Maggie Langham Washington,” interview by Doni Van Ryswyk on April 18, 1988, in Waco, Texas (Waco, TX: Baylor University Institute for Oral History, 1989), 50-51, available online at https://digitalcollections-baylor.quartexcollections.com/Documents/Detail/oral-memoirs-of-maggie-langham-washington-transcript/1714380?item=1714381.

narrators/theorists.

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Reverend Michael Babers

Reverend Michael Babers

Bettie Beard

Bettie Beard

Linda Jann Lewis

Linda Jann Lewis

Ramad Carter

Ramad Carter

LaRue Dorsey

LaRue Dorsey

Stevie Walker-Webb

Stevie Walker-Webb

Nona Kirkpatrick & Anthony Fulbright

Nona Kirkpatrick & Anthony Fulbright

Reverend George Oliver

Reverend George Oliver

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epigraphs.

The epigraphs are drawn from interviews with Stevie Walker-Webb, Bettie Beard, and Ramad Carter, respectively.

further reading.

Bernstein, Patricia. The First Waco Horror: The Lynching of Jesse Washington and the Rise of the NAACP. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2005.

Carrigan, William D. The Making of a Lynching Culture: Violence and Vigilantism in Central Texas, 1836-1916. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Crabtree, Mari N. My Soul Is a Witness: The Traumatic Afterlife of Lynching. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2023.

Cone, James H. The Cross and the Lynching Tree. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2011.

Denkins, Mary. Interview by William Carrigan, January 11, 1994, in Waco, Texas. Compact disc. Available at the Baylor University Institute for Oral History.

Du Bois, W.E.B. “The Waco Horror.” Supplement to The Crisis 12 (July 1916): 1-8. 

Du Bois, W.E.B. “Jesus Christ in Texas.” In Darkwater: Voices from within the Veil, 70-77. Mineola: Dover Publications, 1999 [1920].

Gordon, Jane Anna and Lewis R. Gordon. Of Divine Warning: Reading Disaster in a Modern Age. New York: Routledge, 2009.

Roane, J.T. “Tornado Groan: On Black (Blues) Ecologies.” Black Perspectives (AAIHS). March 16, 2020. https://www.aaihs.org/tornado-groan-on-black-blues-ecologies/.

Sims, Angela D. Lynched: The Power of Memory in a Culture of Terror. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2016.

Thuesen, Peter J. Tornado God: American Religion and Violent Weather. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.

Wells, Ida B. The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-Lynching Crusader. Edited by Mia Bay and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. New York: Penguin Publishing, 2014.

photography & interview support.

a note on this archive.

Funding, Preservation, and Practice

This research was funded by a Fellows Grant from The Crossroads Project, a collaborative research initiative co-directed by Anthea Butler, Lerone Martin, and Judith Weisenfeld, based at Princeton University and supported by the Henry Luce Foundation. 

The interviews making up this archive will be preserved at the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. While there are oral history projects focused on the Jesse Washington lynching, some of which mention the tornado tradition in passing, this archive centers and gathers interviews about storytelling traditions surrounding the 1953 tornado which have circulated in the Black Waco community [8]. Nine interviews were collected during the summer of 2022. Prior to this project, I was lucky to already count two narrators as friends–namely, Stevie Walker-Webb and Ramad Carter. Stevie introduced me to the tradition over a decade ago. I met and interviewed the other seven narrators through this project. The collection of narratives reflects relative generational diversity (the age of narrators ranges from thirty-three to ninety years old) and consists of Black women and men who are retired and active educators, disaster relief workers, artists, activists, community organizers, ministers, and local leaders. Many have lived in Waco for decades; all are in some way deeply connected to the city and Central Texas even if they no longer reside there. At least two narrators regionally trace their family lineage to the Stroud Plantation of Limestone and Freestone Counties to the east of Waco. Each interview lasted for approximately one to two hours and narrators were given compensation for participation. The majority of interviews were conducted face to face in living rooms in East Waco, others took place at the East Waco Public Library, the lunch buffet at the Baylor Club, the recording studio of the Institute for Oral History, and Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. Two were conducted over Zoom. 

Collecting interviews in the context of a city I have lived provided points of identification for collaborating with narrators. As did pre-existing relationships, institutional connections, and a number of shared commitments. Still, the built-in inequality between interviewer and interviewee shaped interviews as it does all oral history interviews. This dynamic was underscored (in all cases) by differences of race, (in many cases) by differences of gender and sexuality, and (in some cases) by differences of class, and by the way such differences were articulated through the theme at the center of the project: Black oral and religious tradition. 

Certain dispositions and practices aided in the negotiation of these differences and in the effort to generate shared authority in the interview settings. In terms of approach, this project recognized from its inception that Black Waco narrators are not repositories of stories to be mined, but agents with lived experiences and trauma, knowledge and memories, and theoretical capacities of great magnitude. In terms of practice, the interviews were structured as a dialogue organized by listening to and revising questions in response to narrators’ stories about their lives in Waco and their specific relation to histories and oral traditions about Jesse Washington and the tornado. The practice of asking revisable and open-ended questions enabled narrators to determine interview content and direction. In addition, interview practices were designed not only to shift narrative control to narrators but also to make room for contestation–including challenges to the framing of certain questions as well as the attention being given to the oral tradition itself. Such challenges did not go without articulation in the interviews and thus appear as part of the archive. Each participant was also invited to offer interpretive reflections and analysis in recognition of their powers as narrators and theorists. Moreover, the list of participants reflects dispersed authority between narrators and myself as the researcher, for the inclusion of a number of community members was the result of narrator directives. No doubt to greater and lesser degrees of success, these interventions were part of an effort to distribute authority, empower Black Waco narrators, and experiment with the oral history interview as a means of building bridges through shared concerns around the themes and significance of the story.

I wish to express my gratitude to all participating narrators, including Reverend Michael Babers, Bettie Beard, Ramad Carter, LaRue Dorsey, Anthony Fulbright, Nona Kirkpatrick, Linda Jann Lewis, Reverend George Oliver, and Stevie Walker-Webb, as well as to many other Wacoans who supported and inspired this work. Thank you to Judith Weisenfeld, Matthew Harris, Heath Pearson, Ry Siggelkow, Nathan Maddox, and Will Wellman for comments on drafts of narrative material, Mark Menjívar for collaboration, and the staff of the Institute for Oral History for support.

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