Commemorating Wilmington’s Racial Violence of 1898: From Individual to Collective Memory

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Commemorating Wilmington’s Racial Violence of 1898: From Individual to Collective Memory

by Melton Alonza McLaurin
Southern Cultures, Vol. 8, No. 2: Summer 2002

"On November 10, 1898, an armed mob of whites destroyed the state's only daily African American newspaper by burning the building in which is was housed."

Scholars do not dispute the essential facts about the racial violence that occurred in Wilmington, North Carolina, more than a hundred years ago, although interpretations of the event by the city’s current residents reflect the racial divide that is their common heritage. On November 10, 1898, an armed mob of whites led by some of Wilmington’s most respected and influential citizens destroyed the state’s only daily African American newspaper by burning the building in which it was housed. They then turned their fury and guns on the city’s black population, killing at least nine blacks, according to the contemporary white press, scores according to the oral tradition within the African American community. The mob then drove others, perhaps hundreds–men, women, and children–from their homes into surrounding swamps in search of safety. Over the next two days, while Wilmington’s black citizens unsuccessfully appealed to the federal government for protection, groups of armed whites forcefully expelled from the city both black and white political and business leaders opposed to conservative Democratic rule and white supremacy. Led by the city’s white elite, armed whites used the threat of paramilitary forces to remove from office Wilmington’s duly elected, biracial city government, replacing it with representatives of the old elite in what has been called the only successful coup d’etat in the United States.

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