Wilmington, North Carolina - History - Wilmington Insurrection of 1898

Wilmington Insurrection of 1898

The Wilmington Insurrection of 1898 (formerly called a race riot) occurred as a result of the racially charged political conflict that had occurred in the decades after the Civil War and efforts to establish white supremacy. In the 1870s, the Red Shirts, a white paramilitary organization, used violence and intimidation to suppress black voting, helping Democrats to regain power in the state legislature and end Reconstruction. In 1898, a cadre of white Democrats, professionals and businessmen, planned to overthrow the city government if their candidates were not elected. Two days after the election, more than 1500 white men attacked and burned the only black newspaper in the state and ran off the white Republican mayor and aldermen (both white and black), overthrowing the legitimately elected municipal government. This is the only such coup d'├ętat in United States history.

On November 10, 1898, nearly 1500 white men, led by the Democrat Alfred M. Waddell, an unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate in 1896, marched to the offices of the Daily Record, as they had been angered by its publisher Alex Manly. The mob broke out of control, shattering windows and setting fire to the building. Violence later broke out across town in Brooklyn, the black neighborhood that was attacked by mobs of whites. Waddell and his men forced the elected Republican city officials to resign at gunpoint and replaced them with men selected by leading white Democrats. Waddell was elected mayor by the newly seated board of aldermen that day. Prominent African Americans and white Republicans were banished from the city in the following days.

Whites attacked and killed an estimated 10-100 blacks. No whites died in the violence. As a result of the attacks, more than 2100 blacks permanently left the city, leaving a hole among its professional and middle class. It became majority white, rather than the majority black it was before the white Democrats' coup.

Following these events, the North Carolina legislature passed a new constitution with voter registration requirements for poll taxes and literacy tests that effectively disfranchised black voters, following the example of the state of Mississippi. Blacks were essentially disfranchised until after Congressional passage of the civil rights acts of the mid-1960s.

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