Tyler B. Davis is a visiting instructor in the department of theology at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. He holds a PhD in theological studies from Baylor University and an MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary. His published work has appeared in the Journal of Africana Religions, Religions, and other academic and popular outlets. His current research, which has been supported by the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation and Political Theology Network, examines the significance of a Black oral tradition about a tornado in Waco, Texas as an expression of liberation theology.
Crossroads Research Fellows Project
God of the Whirlwind: An Archive of the Black Waco Oral Tradition
God of the Whirlwind proposes to document and curate the archive of a Black oral tradition that contests antiblack violence in Central Texas by telling a story about a meteorological disaster. In 1916, amid the crucible of the lynching era, seventeen-year-old African American Jesse Washington was publicly lynched by a mob in front of thousands of spectators in the city of Waco, Texas. While the gruesome deed captured international attention for its racist brutality—being referred to by W.E.B. Du Bois as “the Waco Horror”— a powerful local response emerged in its wake, one which enabled Black Wacoans to reimagine history on their own terms. In 1953, an event of sudden climate change—a tornado disaster—devastated the downtown area of the city. The coincidence of the tornado’s path with the route where Washington was lynched occasioned an interpretation that connected the two events. A portent of emancipation, Black Wacoans claimed that the whirlwind was a work of God which retraced the very path of the lynching. God of the Whirlwind builds an archive of this local religious storytelling tradition as it has been handed down among generations of Black Wacoans. This project specifically aims to expand our understanding of the landscape of Black religion by appreciating the magnitude of Black religious imaginations and languages as they intersect with regional histories, geographies, and ecologies.