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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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.
Across from town at foot of Mulberry (Grace)
South side Market between Front and Second
Down the waterfront
Ferry at Water Street
Wilmington was a bustling, thriving port town for all levels of society and races during the last quarter of the 19th century.
A strong religious community supported charitable organizations, and promoted educational improvements.
St. Luke’s AME Zion Church
Gregory Normal Institute
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.
Governor Daniel Russell (Republican)
Furnifold Simmons (Democrat)
Senator Jeter Pritchard (Republican)
Senator Marion Butler (Populist)
DEMOCRATIC EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE
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.
JOHN W. THOMPSON, Secretary
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Thalian Hall/City Hall
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.
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.