“When it comes to actual crimes — real rapes — at the turn of the twentieth century, the record is full of silences. There seems not to have been any investigation into the alleged crime wave in eastern North Carolina at the end of the 19th century, even though supposed black crime furnished the rationale for a bloody attack on blacks in Wilmington and for subsequent disfranchisement….”
— From “Southern History Across the Color Line“ by Nell Irvin Painter (2002)
“There was no reckoning with the [News & Observer’s] role in the Wilmington coup until 2006, when Timothy B. Tyson, a historian at Duke University, authored a sixteen-page special section detailing the events. The editorial board also issued an apology….
“Without the News & Observer’s stories — and especially the cartoons — a hostile takeover would not have been possible. ‘You can’t underestimate the heat involved in these political cartoons,’ he said. ‘They were the cable news of their day. You didn’t even have to be literate to understand them.'”
— From “On Atonement: News outlets have apologized for past racism. That should only be the start.” by Alexandria Neason, Columbia Journalism Review (Jan. 28)
The attention rightly heaped upon David Zucchino’s “Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup Of 1898 And The Rise Of White Supremacy” reminded me of this Miscellany post from seven years ago. (Sorry the eBay image of the printing-press fragment being auctioned hasn’t survived.)
I’ve seen a lot of remarkable North Caroliniana on eBay but nothing as breathtaking as this supposed artifact, inscribed “destroyed by the white citizens of Wilmington,” offered by a dealer in Oreland, Pa.
Here’s a reaction from historian Tim Tyson, who has written extensively about the black-owned Daily Record’s role in the nation’s only coup d’etat: “If it is the real thing, I sure would like to have it myself… I don’t know what it might be ‘worth,’ but I think it belongs well south of Pennsylvania!”
Anyone care to speculate on the initials, which seem to be “J.H.T.J.”?
“According to the historian David S. Cecelski, presenting [Alfred] Waddell as a righteous campaigner for ‘sobriety and peace’ was standard in Wilmington until the 1990s. ‘I grew up in a small town in eastern North Carolina 90 miles from Wilmington,’ Cecelski says. ‘I had a book in my middle-school classroom that listed the 12 greatest North Carolinians ever. It included the Wright brothers, Virginia Dare, and then it included three of the people who were the leaders of the white supremacy campaign.
“ ‘For something like Wilmington in 1898,’ Cecelski continues, ‘it’s hard to describe the level of indoctrination. In the 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, they bragged about [the coup]. After that, they backed off but it stayed in the history books and they talked about it as an unfortunate but necessary event.'”In fact, part of how historians have pieced together the real story of the Wilmington massacre is by looking back at newspaper archives — from towns all across North Carolina, not just Wilmington — where similar violence was coordinated that day. ‘They burned down black newspapers all over the state,’ Cecelski says….”
“When Philip Gerard was writing Cape Fear Rising as an untenured professor in the early ‘90s, he was called in for a meeting with the Chancellor of UNC Wilmington.
“ ‘I walk in and it’s not just the Chancellor,’ Gerard said, ‘it’s every Vice Chancellor and Dean sitting around this conference table. And the Chancellor says, “Now Philip, can you tell them what your book is going to be about?” ‘
“Gerard said he was unaware that many of the descendants of the 1898 conspirators were influential members of the university. ‘I didn’t realize at that point that Mrs. Hugh McRae was the chair of the board of trustees, George Rountree [III] was on the board of trustees, and a number of other families mentioned in the book had close ties in one way or another to the university.’
“Gerard was quick to note that he was not threatened during the meeting, but he was later told that, after he left the room, ‘that there was a spirited discussion and a motion among the board of trustees to not grant me tenure.’ ”
–– From “Revising the Revisionists” by Johannes Lichtman in the Rumpus (July 10, 2012)
“My impression after living in Wilmington for 16 months is that a significant proportion of white residents know little about the 1898 coup, let alone its deep connection to the current character of the city.
“At [an Occupy Wilmington meeting] the week before the encampment was supposed to start, someone raised the possibility of using the city’s one memorial to the massacre — a practically invisible monument in Brooklyn — as the starting point for the march on City Hall…. The proposal was met with more than one blank stare. What monument? What’s 1898?”
— From “Occupy Wilmington” by Peter C. Baker in N + 1 magazine (December 29, 2011)
“Lynchings were far more likely to occur in some regions of the South than others, and those patterns call into question easy assumptions about the forces behind lynching…. Although North Carolina witnessed the greatest amount of racial conflict in the political realm of any Southern state, including the brutal white supremacy campaign and Wilmington riot of 1898, the heavily black part of the state registered a remarkably low rate of lynching…..
“[Regions that did have high rates of lynching] shared a particular demography. [They] had an extremely low rural population density [and] in the last two decades of the 19th century they experienced tremendous rates of black population increase.”
— From “The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction” by Edward L. Ayers (2007)
Some readers may struggle with the distinction between lynchings and the bloody coup d’etat in Wilmington.