When white supremacists overthrew a government

The Wilmington insurrection of 1898, also known as the Wilmington massacre of 1898 or the Wilmington Coup of 1898, occurred in Wilmington, North Carolina, on Thursday, November 10, 1898. 

* Correction at 7:23: Cynthia's ancestors lived in Wilmington, not her descendants. (video courtesy: Vox)

It is considered a turning point in post-Reconstruction North Carolina politics The coup occurred after the state's white Southern Democrats conspired and led a mob of 2,000 white men to overthrow the legitimately elected local Fusionist government. They expelled opposition black and white political leaders from the city, destroyed the property and businesses of black citizens built up since the Civil War, including the only black newspaper in the city, and killed an estimated 60 to more than 300 people.

In 1860, before the Civil War, Wilmington was majority black and the largest city in the state, with nearly 10,000 people. Numerous enslaved laborers and free Black People worked at the port, in households as domestic servants, and in a variety of jobs as artisans and skilled workers.

With the end of the war, freedmen in many states left plantation and rural areas for towns and cities, not only to seek work but to gain safety by creating black communities without white supervision. Tensions grew in Wilmington and other areas because of a shortage of supplies; Confederate currency had no value and the South was impoverished at the end of the long war.

In 1868, North Carolina ratified the 14th Amendment, resulting in the recognition of Reconstruction, and in the state legislature and governorship falling under Republican rule. Democrats greatly resented this "radical" change, which they deemed as being brought about by blacks, Unionist carpetbaggers, and race traitors. Freedmen were eager to vote, tending to support the Republican Party that had emancipated them and given them citizenship and suffrage.

For a temporary period when Confederate veterans were barred from office and voting. Many white Democrats had been embittered since the Confederacy's defeat. Insurgent veterans joined the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), which orchestrated considerable violence at elections in order to suppress the black vote.

Democrats regained control of the state legislature in 1870. After the KKK was suppressed by the federal government through the Force Act of 1870, new paramilitary groups arose in the South. By 1874, chapters of Red Shirts, a paramilitary arm of the Democratic Party, had formed in North Carolina.

Democrats developed a plan to reverse "home rule," meaning local officials would no longer be elected, but appointed by the state. They began circumventing legislation by taking over the state's judiciary, and adopted 30 amendments to the state constitution including lowering the number of judges on the state supreme court, putting the lower courts and local governments under the control of the state legislature, rescinding the votes of certain types of criminals, mandating segregated public schools, outlawing interracial relationships and granting the General Assembly the power to modify or nullify any local government. By adopting these things, the Democrats became identified as would-be bastions for white Americans. However, their control was largely limited to the western part of the state, within counties where, demographically, there were few blacks.

As the Democrats chipped away at Republican rule, things came to a head with the 1876 gubernatorial campaign of Zebulon B. Vance, a former Confederate soldier and governor. Vance called the Republican Party "begotten by a scalawag out of a mulatto and born in an outhouse." Through Vance, the Democrats saw their biggest opening to begin implementing their agenda in the eastern part of the state.

However, in that region, poor white cotton farmers, fed up with the capitalism of big banks and railroad companies – high freight rates and laissez-faire economics – aligned themselves with the labor movement. They had turned on the Democratic Party, founding The People's Party (also known as The Populists). In 1892, as the US plunged into an economic depression, the Populists banded with black Republicans who shared their hardships, forming an interracial coalition with a platform of self-governance, free public education and equal voting rights for black men, called the Fusion Coalition.

In the years that followed, Wilmington, then the largest city in the state, had a majority-black population, with black people accounting for about 55 percent of its roughly 25,000 people. Included were numerous black professionals and businessmen, and a rising middle class.

The Republican Party was biracial in membership. Unlike in many other jurisdictions, black people in Wilmington were elected to local office, and also gained prominent positions in the community. For example, three of the city's aldermen were black. Of the five members on the constituent board of audit and finance, one was black. Black people were also in positions of justice of the peace, deputy clerk of court, street superintendent, coroners, policemen, mail clerks and mail carriers.

Blacks also held significant economic power in the city. Many former slaves had skills which they were able to use in the marketplace. For example, several became bakers, grocers, dyers, etc., making up nearly 35 percent of Wilmington's service positions, which was down over 20 percent from 1889.

Black people were moving out of service jobs and into other types of employment, where there was a higher demand for their work, along with higher pay. At the time, black people accounted for over 30 percent of Wilmington's skilled craftsmen, such as mechanics, carpenters, jewelers, watchmakers, painters, plasterers, plumbers, stevedores, blacksmiths, masons, and wheelwrights. In addition, blacks owned ten of the city's 11 restaurants, 90 percent of the city's 22 barbers, and one of the city's four fish and oysters dealerships. There were also more black bootmakers/shoemakers than white ones, one-third of the city's butchers were black, and half of the city's tailors were black. Lastly, two brothers, Alexander and Frank Manly, owned the Wilmington Daily Record, one of the few black newspapers in the state at the time, which was reported to be the only black daily newspaper in the country.

With the help of patronage and equitable hiring practices, a few black people also held some of the most prominent business and leadership roles in the city, such as architect and financier Frederick C. Sadgwar. Thomas C. Miller was one of the city's three real estate agents and auctioneers, and was also the only pawnbroker in the city, with many whites known to be indebted to him. John C. Dancy replaced a prominent white Democrat as the appointed collector of customs at the Port of Wilmington, in 1897, at a salary of nearly $4,000 (about $113,000 in 2017). The editor of the Wilmington Messenger often disparaged him by referring to Dancy as "Sambo of the Customs House". Black professionals increasingly supported each other. For example, of the over 2,000 black professionals in Wilmington at the time, more than 95 percent were clergy or teachers, professions where they were not shut out from competing, unlike doctors and lawyers

Source: wikipedia.org

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Last modified on Monday, 04 January 2021 09:28
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