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Wilmington Race Riot 1898. The Wilmington Race Riot was the result of the 1898 white supremacy campaign instituted by the Democratic Party. Democrats fueled racial hatred and promised violence to win the election.

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The Wilmington Race Riot was the result of the 1898 white supremacy campaign instituted by the Democratic Party. Democrats fueled racial hatred and promised violence to win the election.

Although Election Day was peaceful as Democrats regained control of the General Assembly and New Hanover County government, violence broke out two days later in the state’s most progressive city.

1880 s wilmington
1880’s Wilmington

Across from town at foot of Mulberry (Grace)

South side Market between Front and Second

maritime activity
Maritime Activity

Down the waterfront

Ferry at Water Street

1890 s wilmington
1890’s Wilmington

Wilmington was a bustling, thriving port town for all levels of society and races during the last quarter of the 19th century.

wilmington s african american community
Wilmington’s African American Community

A strong religious community supported charitable organizations, and promoted educational improvements.

St. Luke’s AME Zion Church

Gregory Normal Institute

african american leadership
African -American Leadership
  • The city boasted numerous black professionals such as attorneys, business owners and entrepreneurs.
  • African Americans from a wide range of backgrounds were able to manage their own businesses and buy homes throughout the city.
  • In greater numbers than in many other North Carolina towns, Wilmington’s African Americans participated in politics and held municipal and political positions.
wilmington s elite african americans
Wilmington’s Elite African Americans

Carrie Sadgwar Manly was a well educated and talented daughter of a former Wilmington slave. She graduated from Fisk University and traveled the world with the school’s musical ensemble.

Valentine Howe was a member of a large family that traced its roots to freedmen who gained their freedom from slavery before the Civil War. Many of the Howe men were trained as master craftsmen.

white community
White Community
  • Although not in power in 1898, whites still maintained an upper class ruling elite rooted in tradition.
  • Large numbers of unskilled and unemployed white immigrants filtered into Wilmington for seasonal employment at mills and factories.
  • White voters were consistently outnumbered by black voters.
1890 s politics
1890’s Politics
  • Politics of the 1890’s revolved around attempts by Republicans and Populists to “fuse” their voters to defeat Democrats.
  • “Fusion” was successful and by 1898 the Democrats were determined to regain control of the statewide political scene.
1890 s politics1
1890’s Politics

Governor Daniel Russell (Republican)

Furnifold Simmons (Democrat)

Senator Jeter Pritchard (Republican)

Senator Marion Butler (Populist)

election of 1896
Election of 1896
  • Democratic Party defeated by “Fusion” of the Republicans headed by Daniel Russell and Populists under the lead of Marion Butler.
  • Daniel Russell was elected to serve as the first Republican Governor since Reconstruction.
  • Russell enacted changes to Wilmington and New Bern city charters in order to reverse laws established by Democrats to assure their control of those cities.
  • “Fusionists” allowed more African-American participation in government although only a handful of positions were held by African Americans.
election of 1898
Election of 1898
  • Seen by Democrats as pivotal to regaining control of state legislature; a key part of a gradual process to reclaim control of the state and reverse laws created by Fusionists to make government more equitable.
  • Furnifold Simmons developed a strong Democratic Party machine to use printed media, speechmaking and intimidation to achieve victory at all costs.
  • The 1898 campaign was the most organized Democratic Party election campaign up until that time.
democratic party platform
Democratic Party Platform


RALEIGH, N. C., August 13, 1898.

        The condition of public affairs that confronts us calls for the most strenuous efforts on the part of all patriotic North Carolinians to restore good government to our beloved State; and it is hoped that this book will be found of value in presenting the issues of the campaign to the people.

F. M. SIMMONS, Chairman.


wilmington november 1898
Wilmington (November,1898)

By Election Day on November 8, 1898, Wilmington had become the center of the Democratic Party’s White Supremacy campaign and the city was on edge. Men of all races expected violence on Election Day as Red Shirts sought to intimidate voters and African Americans vowed to exercise their right to vote regardless of consequence

Alfred Moore Waddell

Democratic Party Speechmaker


Intimidation of white Republicans and African Americans throughout the campaign was channeled through groups such as the White Government Union, and Red Shirt brigades, both developed and engineered by Simmons.

Waddell fueled the intimidation by proclaiming that Democrats would win the election even if they had to “choke the current” of the Cape Fear River with bodies of African Americans to win.

Handbill distributed by Democrats in the city to intimidate six leading white Republicans. After Republican Postmaster William Chadbourn capitulated to Democratic pressures the “6” was changed to a “5” in local newspapers.

red shirt intimidation
Red Shirt Intimidation

Red Shirts, such as these men from Laurinburg, held day-long rallies in which they rode through African American communities with their guns in plain sight.

The first Red Shirts appeared in North Carolina in the fall of 1898 and, by Election Day, the organization boasted membership in several eastern counties, including a strong contingent in New Hanover.

alex manly
Alex Manly

A descendant of Governor Charles Manly, Alex was the mulatto editor of the Wilmington Record – the city’s only African American newspaper.

In August, 1898, Manly printed an editorial in response to a speech given by a Georgia woman who cautioned white men to better protect white women.

In his response Manly addressed miscegenation and stipulated that white women enjoyed the company of black men as much as white men enjoyed that of black women.

The white community became inflamed at the editorial and used it to fuel their campaign.

Manly fled the city just before the riot, avoiding certain lynching, and lived the remainder of his life in northern states.


Final Politics

The day before the election, Democrats held a rally at Thalian Hall in which Alfred Moore Waddell gave a speech that demonstrated his party’s determination:

“You are Anglo-Saxons.

You are armed and prepared, and you will do your duty. Be ready at a moment’s notice.

Go to the polls tomorrow, and if you find the Negro out voting, tell him to leave the polls and if he refuses kill, shoot him down in his tracks.

We shall win tomorrow if we have to do it with guns”

Alfred Moore Waddell November 7, 1898

election day
Election Day
  • Democrats won most of their contests across the state with large majorities.
  • Victory was the result of low Republican and Populist turnout and higher than normal Democratic voting.
  • The day was peaceful with only a few incidents of unrest.
  • In Wilmington, ballot counting was undisturbed in most city precincts but one polling place in the African American community was “stormed” by whites who stuffed the ballot boxes when lights were extinguished.
november 9 1898
November 9, 1898

Emboldened by victory, whites met at the courthouse the day after the election to place a series of demands on the African American community. Primary among the demands in the document that is known as the “White Declaration of Independence” was the instant removal from the city of editor Manly and his newspaper. Additional resolutions called for the resignation of the Mayor and Chief of Police. Waddell was named to lead the effort of a Committee of 25 to effect the document’s demands.

“We, the undersigned citizens of the City of Wilmington and County of New Hanover, do hereby declare that we will no longer be ruled, and will never again be ruled by men of African origin.”

Preamble to the White Declaration of Independence.

committee of colored citizens
Committee of Colored Citizens

A Committee of Colored Citizens was called to hear the demands of the whites on the evening of November 9th. Waddell presided at the meeting which was attended by approximately 25 whites and 32 African Americans. The African Americans in attendance were selected because they were seen by whites as the political, social and religious leaders who could effect change.

In response, the African American leaders drafted a response written in humble language that indicated they would do what they could to avoid conflict even though they had no real ability to affect the wider community.

We the colored citizens to whom was referred the matter of expulsion from this community of the person and press of A.L. Manly beg most respectfully to say that we are in no wise responsible for nor in anyway condone the obnoxious article that called forth your actions. Neither are we authorized to act for him in this matter; but in the interest of peace, we will most willingly use our influence to have your wishes carried out.” Response of the Committee of Colored Citizens

wilmington light infantry
Wilmington Light Infantry

Waddell had scheduled a meeting with whites at the Wilmington Light Infantry Armory the next morning. At the meeting it was anticipated that he would receive the response from the Committee of Colored Citizens. However, their response had not arrived and Waddell made use of the crowd’s furor -- leading a procession of men to Manly’s press building.

By the time the crowd made its way to the press building, it had grown in size to as many as 1,000 men. The men proceeded to break into the building, destroy the printing press and burn the building.

destruction of manly s press
Destruction of Manly’s Press

After the press was destroyed, a group of men paused for a news photographer in front of the building. Most of the men then returned to the Armory but some returned to their neighborhood across town by trolley.

hell broke loose
“Hell Broke Loose”

According to one native Wilmington historian, “Hell Broke Loose” around 11:00 am near the intersection of Fourth and Harnett Streets in the predominantly African American Brooklyn community. After the first shots were fired at this intersection, several black men lay dead or wounded. The “x” marks on the photo below indicate where two African American men died instantly as a result of gunfire.

After the first shots were fired, a “running firefight” erupted in the streets with armed men of both races rushing to the scene.

a call for backup
A Call for Backup

A white resident of Brooklyn, Will Mayo, was wounded near the site of the first gunshots and many whites sought to avenge his suffering by shooting at any black man that crossed their path. Included as targets were a good number of men who were heading to their homes on lunch break or seeking to ensure the safety of loved ones.

Mayo was taken to Moore’s drug store, photo at left, for treatment and Moore in turn telephoned the Wilmington Light Infantry Armory to inform Col. Walker Taylor that violence had broken out. The Wilmington Light Infantry then dispatched troops to the area to press the peace.

manhattan park
Manhattan Park

Before the Wilmington Light Infantry could suppress all of the violence, shots rang out around Manhattan Park deep in the African American community. At least two African American men died as a result of the action around Manhattan Park.

A fence had surrounded Manhattan Park but was “mowed down” by rifle fire. The day after the riot, one white participant wrote his future wife that he wanted to take her to see the “battle-scarred” trees and buildings in Brooklyn when she returned to the city.

coup d etat
Coup d’etat
  • Even as gunshots echoed through the city, Waddell and other leaders sought the resignations of Wilmington’s Mayor and Board of Aldermen at 4:00 in the afternoon.
  • Waddell was then “elected” mayor by a new Board of Aldermen who had been hand-picked by leading Democrats to run the city.
  • Not long after Waddell assumed power, all black employees or appointed officers were fired or replaced.

Thalian Hall/City Hall

banishment campaign
Banishment Campaign

Another facet of the riot was that prominent African Americans – economic, religious and political leaders – were arrested, jailed overnight and banished from the city.

These men were promised that returning to their homes, families and businesses would result in physical harm and/or death.

Banished African American leaders being marched to train station on November 11th.

aftermath jim crow alive and well
Aftermath – Jim Crow Alive and Well
  • Burial of the Dead
    • Actual numbers of dead and wounded have never been tallied and, due to inconclusive evidence, a definitive figure may never be determined.
  • Exodus
    • During the riot and immediately afterward, scores of African Americans left the city to find less hostile homes for their families and businesses.
  • Changes in workforce
    • African Americans who remained or moved to Wilmington faced harsh racism and a reduction in pay as they accepted lower paying jobs.
  • Suffrage Amendment (1900)
    • Democrats won the Governor’s office in 1900 using election campaign tactics similar to those of 1898. In 1900 Democrats were able to pass a Suffrage Amendment to the state Constitution that virtually eliminated African American voting rights and perpetuated segregation that lasted until the Civil Rights movements of the 1950’s and 60’s.
for more information
For More Information


Images used in this slideshow are courtesy of: New Hanover County Public Library, North Carolina State Archives, Cape Fear Museum, Lower Cape Fear Historical Society, and the North Carolina Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.