Greg Cohoon (drmellow) wrote,
Greg Cohoon

1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission Releases Report

Yesterday, the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission issued their final report on the riot that took place on November 10, 1898 in Wilmington, NC. This event is the only time in the history of the United States of America where a legitimately elected government was violently overthrown in a coup d état.

Until recently, I did not know that.

Over the past few days, I've heard about this report a few times on the radio and seen some print/blog editorials talk about it. It's pretty interesting -- I think that I'm going to make the time over the next couple of weeks to thoroughly read the report and follow some of the bibliographic citations. From what I've been able to gather so far, the events of the 1898 Riot played out like this: after the CSA defeat in the War Betwen the States, the USA entered into a period of Reconstruction. Yankees came to the South to help keep the war from starting again and re-instute federal government rule. Blacks flocked to the Republican party since Lincoln was a Republican and they saw the Republican party as the anti-slavery party. The Democrat party largely represented big businesses like railroads. In North Carolina, small farmers couldn't find a political home in the Democrat party, so they formed their own party -- the Populist party. In the years leading up to 1898, the Republican and Populist parties held the most political power in Wilmington (maybe throughout the state, I haven't figured that part out yet). Many racist organizations flocked to the Democrat party and The Raleigh News and Observer, owned by Josephus Daniels, essentially became a propoganda machine against the Republicans and Populists. Eventually, the Democrats got fed up of being out of power. When they couldn't win at the polls, they resorted to strong-arm tactics of intimidation, eventually resorting to murder and riot to drive out over 2,100 people from Wilmington and forcing -- at gunpoint -- legitimately elected government officials to resign, destroying the Republican power base. Many of the leaders of the conspiracy and riot went on to have prominent state-wide careers in politics. Today, buildings and streets throughout North Carolina are named after some of these same people. They were never punished for leading a violent overthrow of a legitimately elected government -- their coup was successful. The political, social, and economic effects of these events were felt throughout North Carolina for decades to come.

Or, as the Commission puts it in thier "who we are" webpage:
The events of November 10, 1898, in Wilmington constitute a turning point in North Carolina history. By force, a white mob seized the reins of government in the port city and, in so doing, destroyed the local black-owned newspaper office and terrorized the African American community. In the months thereafter, political upheaval resulted across the state and legal restrictions were placed on the right of blacks to vote. The era of "Jim Crow," one of legal segregation not to end until the 1960s, had begun.
All in all, it's pretty interesting. I mean -- really, did you know that there was a successful coup in the history of the USA? I didn't. It's also pretty sad. It seems that the events leading up to the riot on November 10, 1898 have been largely neglected by history until now. Perhaps with the release of this report, these events will get more recognition in the history books.

Granted, a government-commissioned report is always going to be subject to critique that it is politically charged with political motives of today. Since I haven't read this report yet, I'm not qualified to comment on if and how this report suffers from any current political pressures. Thumbing through it quickly, it appears to be full of plain facts, even though it does draw conclusions and make recomendations. It's also thorougly full of citations to supporting material, so one can always go to many of the sources that the report drew upon.

Read the report. Follow up on the citations. You're smart enough to draw your own conclusions.
Tags: history, politics

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