Art & Art History ETDs

Publication Date



On May 15, 1916, in Waco, Texas, Jesse Washington was tortured to death before a mob estimated to be 10,000-15,000 strong. Local photographer Fred Gildersleeve compounded this tragedy by creating photographic postcards of this infamous spectacle lynching for sale to interested spectators. Both the Washington lynching and the Gildersleeve photographs have been well documented by scholars, but the majority of these texts only discuss the subject as it relates to one particular time period. In my thesis I compare and contrast different interpretations of lynching and the Gildersleeve photographs, as articulated in interviews, newspaper articles, and internet postings, from the early twentieth century until the present day. What I have found illustrates both the changes and continuities in American culture over time. While most people now condemn lynching and white supremacist ideologies, some also interpret the photographs in ways that obscure or even nurture prejudice. Disturbingly, even if perpetrators are denounced as criminals, contemporary witnesses do not always accept that targets of lynching are truly victims.



Document Type


Degree Name

Art History

Level of Degree


Department Name

UNM Department of Art and Art History

First Committee Member (Chair)

Zuromskis, Catherine

Second Committee Member

Coleman, Finnie D.


Lynching, Jesse Washington, Fred Gildersleeve