Wilmington Insurrection of 1898 - Histories and State Race Riot Commission

Histories and State Race Riot Commission

Several histories of the event have been published. Helen G. Edmonds addressed the riot in her work, The Negro and Fusion Politics in North Carolina, 1894-1901 in 1951; she wrote then: "In reality, the Democrats effected a coup d'etat." As the predominant view of the time reflected the Dunning School's disparagement of Reconstruction, her accurate assessment of the events was overlooked by many white historians. Her book was reprinted in 2003.

More recent works include Leon Prather's work, We Have Taken a City: The Wilmington Racial Massacre and Coup of 1898 (1984/2006), which gives a detailed view of events and is considered a balanced account. Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and Its Legacy (1998), a series of essays by a variety of scholars and edited by David Cecelsi and Timothy Tyson, was published during the centennial year.

In 2000, the North Carolina General Assembly established the 13-member 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission to develop a historical record of the event and to assess the economic impact of the riot on blacks locally and across the region and state. The commission had both black and white members. The commission was co-chaired by state legislator Thomas E. Wright.

Representative Wright was expelled from the North Carolina General Assembly and subsequently convicted by a jury for corruption, embezzlement and obstruction of justice and sentenced to 6–8 years in prison. Some people felt his 2007 campaign finance scandal tainted the work of the commission and its proposed legislation for compensation.

The Commission's history by LeRae Umfleet was published in 2006. The report made

"broad recommendations for reparation by government and businesses. They include incentives for minority business development in areas that were affected and the easing of barriers to minority home ownership."

Historians noted that the Raleigh press contributed to the riots by publishing inflammatory stories, in addition to the results of the elections in Wilmington. This encouraged white men from other parts of the state to travel to participate in actions against blacks, including the coup d'état. Articles in the Charlotte Observer have also been cited as adding to the inflamed emotions. The commission asked the newspapers to make scholarships available to minority students and to help distribute copies of the commission report. The commission "also asked that New Hanover County, which includes the city, be placed under special federal supervision through the Voting Rights Act."

In January 2007, the North Carolina Democratic Party officially acknowledged and renounced the actions by party leaders during the Wilmington insurrection and the white supremacy campaigns.

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