1898 Wilmington Race Riot Home Page
Armed black residents fire upon white marchers at 4th and Harnett Streets, thus beginning the violent exchange.
See "The Trial of Thomas Lane" on the Aftermath page. Lane, a black resident of Wilmington, was tried for firing into the Wilmington Light Infantry troops who restored order during the Nov., 1898 conflict.
"The black youngster, Knight, testified that he was in the park
when the trouble occurred; that he heard a pistol shot, saw Thomas Lane run around the house and throw his pistol under the building. At the same time Lane told Knight that he had "gotten one of the damned rascals." Meaning that he had killed one of the Light Infantry boys."
Georgia Community Activist Rebecca
Felton Calls For Lynching of Rapists:
"Republicans, must find a means to stop the crime that
invites lynching by the ignorant and malicious of your
supporters, or you cannot escape the responsibility
for their actions.
[Republicans] encouraged the ignorant Negroes in thinking that the success of the party…insures him against the just penalty of his wrongdoing.”
The editorial of black Wilmington newspaperman Alexander Manly which claimed that the rape of white farm women by blacks was "consensual," sparked the drive for responsible government in Wilmington in November 1898 and ridding the city of those provoking racial hostility.
Black Collector of Customs John C. Dancy placed the blame for racial violence on Manly's incessant demagoguery and incendiary editorials, referring publicly to Manly as "the determing factor" in bringing about the riot.
(The speech of Rebecca Felton in 1897 which
Manly was responding to is related below)
|Rebecca Felton of Georgia|
"On August 11, 1897 Rebecca Latimer Felton, wife of a Populist
leader in Georgia, spoke at the Georgia Agricultural Society about
the problems that farm wives faced. She said that farm wives faced
many dangers, but none greater than the threat of black rapists.
She argued that charitable donations for overseas missionaries
were misspent; the funds were better spent educating pooryoung
white girls who had been left unprotected by the poor white men
of the South. White men, she said, had failed to protect farm
wives from “the black rapist.” Vigilante justice, she declared,
was a way for men to restore that protection.
According to Felton:
“When there is not enough religion in the pulpit to organize a crusade against sin; nor justice in the court house to promptly punish crime; nor manhood enough in the nation to put a sheltering arm about innocence and virtue----if it needs lynching to protect woman’s dearest possession from the ravening human beasts----then I say lynch, a thousand times a week if necessary.”
North Carolina Republicans who had encouraged African American men’s success were also to blame for the “black rapist.”
Republicans, Felton insisted,
“must find a means to stop the crime that invites lynching by the ignorant and malicious of your supporters, or you cannot escape the responsibility for their actions. “ Republicans “encouraged the ignorant Negroes in thinking that the success of the party…insures him against the just penalty of his wrongdoing.”
Republicans, who had portrayed white Democrats as the black’s most bitter enemy, had led African American men to perform all sorts of outrages against whites. “In his ignorance, she argued, the African American man “…has interpreted this to give him license to degrade and debauch.” Felton warned, “You are his teacher. You must correct your teachings or you cannot escape the wrath of an outraged people.”
(see the Alexander Manly-Rebecca Felton page for more)
Research Worth Reading
Understanding The Conflict and Its Origins:
Wilmington Chamber of Commerce Resolution
"The revolution in the city government that displaced a weak and
incompetent administration and legally instituted a new and
representative government was accomplished without violence,
and was the legitimate result of the combined moral influence of
the intelligent and wealth of the community."
Josephus Daniels at the post-conflict Negro State Fair in Raleigh:
"I felt that the Negroes might not relish my addressing them (at the Negro
State Fair in Raleigh). “On the contrary,” (Parson Leak)said, “this old
rascal (Daniel Russell) who is up in the Governor’s mansion, who has
gotten everything he has from Negroes, has been ungrateful. They have
no respect for him. They know that at heart you are their friend and they
need somebody who was a leader of the white supremacy campaign to
give them assurance of friendship and protection. You are the very man
they want.” (Editor In Politics, Josephus Daniels, pp. 311-312.)
Our recent additions help further develop the context
and historical perspective that enable one to better understand
the November 1898 conflict in Wilmington, and how it was part
of a very broad picture of race relations in the United States.
It is the intention of this website to clearly show the various reasons for
the change in government and violence in Wilmington in November, 1898.
Far from being an isolated racial incident, it was the result of years of
political and racial tensions fomented by opportunists in order to acquire
and maintain political supremacy in Wilmington, and New Hanover County.
The manner in which our research material is presented avoids
unecessary commentary, and we intend to let the quoted participants
speak for themselves. In this way the reader may best interpret the
research and reach their own conclusions regarding the event, and
the political turmoil leading to it.
Unfortunately, there are those today who will revise and use historical
events asa weapon for political purposes, and the best defense againt this is
to one, view the past through the eyes of its participants and their writings
left to us; and two, look at both sides of the issue that caused the turmoil
to understand why each side acted as they did. Any attempt by private
groups, or government, at politicizing history should be avoided, as in
the words of the famous Austrian economist and historian,
Ludwig von Mises:
"It is obvious that the historian must not be biased by
any prejudices and party tenets. Those writers who
consider historical events as an arsenal of weapons for
the conduct of their party feuds are not historians
but propagandists and apologists. They are not eager to
acquire knowledge but to justify the program of their
parties . . .They usurp the name of history for their
writings asa blind in order to deceive the incredulous."
Also, as Editor of this site, I want to thank the very generous supporters
who help make this site possible, and who provided the direction and
research essential to presenting a useful source of historical information
for visitors, researchers, and historians. With over 20,000 visitors to
the website since 2005, we have become a well-known resource to
many people in search of unbiased research regarding the 1898
Without that generous support of those interested in accurate
and objective history, this website and research would not be possible.
We especially appreciate the paid scholarships underwritten by
local businesses. This has enabled us to employ research interns
and help them broaden their historical studies.
Our most important asset is the 1898 Institute being fully independent of
any political organizations, and we receive no funding whatsoever
from governmental agencies. The Institute is therefore free from any
political or ideological bias that normally affects academic and
government reports on the 1898 Wilmington conflict.
Thank you for visiting, and your continued generous financial support,
Henry L. Melton, Editor
James C. Clinton , Assistant Editor
Alicia Brock-Osgood , Senior Research Assistant
Samntha Perritone , Archival Research
Mike Taylor, Librarian
(This site is continuously updated with pertinent research and newly
acquired documents that relate to the 1898 Wilmington conflict. Our
thanks to the many friends and researchers in the Wilmington area, at
the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and Chapel Hill, Wake
Forest, Duke, and various area historical institutions whose efforts are
greatly appreciated, and help make this important website possible.
Postwar Black Political Reality in the North:
"By 1883, one (moderate Republican) admitted ruefully that "the elevation
of the Negro was...one of the means adopted to punish the South for
their treason"; it had little relation to the crusade for human rights which
the (15th Amendment) ratification exuberance celebrated.
Negroes looked to Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery man of
impeccable credentials. Whatever the purity of his principles, he
symbolized a very different force which worked against the
Sumner was a politician; his abolitionism and egalitariansim were
expressed in political terms. After the war, left homeless by the diffidence
of abolitionists and the dissolution of their organizations, the Negro
was entrapped by politics, by the Sumners for whom politics was primary.
The Republican party was the snare and the Negro the deluded. Without
help from outside of the political arena, and there was none, the Negro
could only struggle hopelessly and helplessly withing the p0litical
framework. There was no escape.
Recent scholarship has demonstrated that the Radical and later the
bloody-shirt wing of the Republican party had little use for the Negro
except as political ballast. Within the Republican fold, colored
followers sought earnestly for a role to play and rewards to earn. New
Jersey and Connecticut, resident colored spokesmen proclaimed, could
be controlled politically by Negro voters, since they held the balance
of power; but the arithmetic of the pundit and that of the polls never seemed
Without the ability to score at the ballot box, Negroes suffered losses in
the patronage game. No colored men held any appointive office
in Philadelphia, a white newspaper asserted after an 1879
investigation, "unless, perchance, there may be a stray clerk or messenger
in the post office or the customs house."
"We do not believe," a Negro editor lamented in 1880, that "a colored man
can be found from Maine to California holding a government position
that pays over $1500 a year, and probably not a dozen that hold even $1000."
George T. Dowling of Rhode Island, a successful caterer and ardent
politician, took on Frederick Douglas with a blast at Republicans
for discriminations "that feed a lack of respect for colored men," and a
hint that Democrats in the future might welcome Negro support. Most of
the public backbiting (among black and white Republicans) grew out
of conditions imposed by whites: discrimination which limited opportunities
in employment, education and public accomodation; and the Republican
party which limited political preferment....(many) able (black) men had
fled New York for the South or posts abroad.
Trained young colored men, a Philadelphia reporter observed, "are
compelled to become waiters, barbers and the like, because other and
more congenial employments are closed to them." (In the North),
skilled Negroes were barred from government jobs as well as
private employment (and must) "either be menials or starve or
Color differences within the race were heightened in this period by the
influx of Southern freedmen, most of whom were very dark. Known by
their color, their speech and their customs, the newcomers were viewed
with suspicion by older (black) residents.
One Negro leader charged that it was the Southern immigrants who
gambled, committed petty thefts, and carried razors. A white
Philadelphian characterized the newcomers as "ignorant, dissolute and
brutal ex-slaves" and commented that the influx "had not bettered the
social status of the free blacks of Philadelphia any more than elsewhere."
(Repercussions of Reconstruction, The Northern Negro, 1870-1883,
Leslie H. Fishel, Jr., Civil War History, Kent State University, 1968,
William Jennings Bryan in 1890 addresses black
"bloc voting" for the Republican party:
"It seems to me strange that this party, which claims to love the colored
man so well, fails to show its affection in any material degree. In the
northern States there are 621,000 colored men. In many instances they
hold the balance of power, but nobody ever heard of a colored man going
to Congress from the north."
"The Republican party has taken the Negro for thirty years to an office
door and then tied him on the outside. The Negro has bestowed presidents
on the Republican party---and the Republican party has given to the
Negro janitorships in return."
(Bryan, Louis W. Koenig, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1971, page 76 & page 334)
1898 Black Collector of Customs John C. Dancy Speaks:
(Dancy) "Informed several audiences in New York that the Manly editorial
was "the determining factor" in bringing about the riot. Cyrus D. Bell, editor
of the Afro-American Sentinel in Omaha, Nebraska, also blamed Manly for
the violence. Bell pointed out that Manly was a mulatto, and he contended
that the violence in Wilmington "comes from that element that are so
nearly white that they are miserable anywhere except in the white race.
They are the meanest animals unhung. They have no race, and as a rule
less principle." (McDuffie, page 752)
Legislature Restores Local Elections After 1898 Revolution:
"On March 4, 1899, the North Carolina Legislature ratified the
(Wilmington) charter amendment. This act removed the power of
appointing 5 (of ten) aldermen from the governor, and provided for
the (popular) election of two aldermen from each ward. "
The new charter also attempted to force the city's blacks back to their jobs.
The 1899 charter sought to remedy the labor shortage by empowering
the mayor to order all tramps and vagrants to find employment within 24
hours or to leave the city. Those not complying would be put to work on
city property for 30 days. The idle blacks faced the decision of returning
to their jobs or being forced out of the community."
(McDuffie, pp: 773-774)
Senator Zebulon B. Vance
The national Republican party, understanding that its power in the
American South hinged on the black voters they kept at odds with their
white neighbors, introduced the "Force Bill" in 1890. This bill's intent was
to throttle Democratic party campaigns and voter freedom under the guise
of ensuring free elections in the South -- but saying nothing of corrupt
party machines in rampant in Northern States.
The Federal Election “Force Bill," Zebulon Vance of North Carolina
The "Force Bill" of 1890 that Senator Zebulon Vance responded to in the
U.S. Senate was a thinly-veiled attempt by the Republican party to
rigorously defraud honest voters in the South, and reinstitute
corrupt "Reconstruction" election methods upon Southern States in the
1890's. Given the national-level problems of the Republican party after
being ousted by Democrat Grover Cleveland, this bill was a predictable
attempt to win by fraud what could not be attained through honest elections.
The following is an excerpt from a speech by Senator Zebulon B. Vance
of North Carolina in the Senate of the United States, December 15, 1890:
“The title of this bill reads: “An act to prevent force and fraud in elections
of the House of Representatives of the United States…and to insure the
lawful and peaceable conduct of such elections.”
The object then, of the bill is to restore the purity of elections!
I presume that no one will doubt that this is desirable, nay, that it
is indispensable. But the manner in which the Senator and his
associates propose to bring about this purity is what strikes us with wonder.
When this (Republican) party presents itself as the defender of public
virtue, and by reason of its high pretensions claims that only through its
agency can this beatitude be reached, a prudent man would naturally
inquire into its history for proof of its exalted qualifications.
Let us take this method for a moment and see who is, and what is the
Republican party, as represented by the supporters of this bill. We shall
find that it is the same party, which inaugurated Reconstruction.
By Reconstruction, it will be remembered one-fifth of the votes in eleven
States was suppressed by law. The punishment of disfranchisement was
freely inflicted as a punishment for crime without trial and conviction.
Thousands upon top of thousands of other votes were suppressed by fraud,
the returns being counted and canvassed in secret by men not sworn or in
any way responsible to anybody, acting in States far distant from the
places where the votes were cast. In addition to this there were received
and counted the ballots of those who were not entitled to suffrage under any
law known to American history or tradition.
In this way eleven Southern States were subjected to the control of
this fountain of purity. The Republican party took full charge of them and
their destinies. Behind and in support of their leaders stood the Army of
the United States and all the moral power of the government then under
the control of this great party whose chief desire is the purity and freedom
The carnival of corruption and fraud, the trampling down of decency,
the rioting in the overthrow of the traditions of a proud people, the chaos of
hell on earth which took place beggars the descriptive powers of
plain history…I believe a committee of Congress, who took some testimony
on this subject, estimated in 1871 the amount of plunder which was
extracted from the Southern people in about 5 short years---some
$300 millions of dollars in the shape of increased debt alone, to say nothing
of the indirect damage inflicted by the many ways of corruption and
misrule which can not be estimated in money.
The trick by which Republicans fastened itself for a term of years upon
the downtrodden States was one which could only have been originated with
a party devoted to the highest morality and the purest elections.
In the formation of new governments primarily, the Negro who had no right
to vote was permitted to do so by military force. The historical inquirer
will likewise learn that during the time the South was being thus plundered
by the carpetbaggers through the ignorance of the Negroes in the
Southern department of the party of purity and free elections, the home
office was doing a business, which reflected no mean luster on the active
and energetic Southern branches. The system of levying contributions upon
all Federal officeholders for corrupt political purposes was inaugurated and
set going with efficiency and success.
Grants of the public domain equal to the area of many great nations
were jobbed away to companies of loyal speculators. The Credit Mobilier
was born and with incredible rapidity became the scandal of
Christendom. Whiskey rings fastened their thievish grip upon the
revenues. The Black Friday conspiracy shook the credit of the continent
and made businessmen lose faith in human integrity.
As soon as there began to appear any necessity for it, that is to say, so soon
as there appeared a feeble and languid rallying of political virtue in the
dazed public mind, this pure and virtuous party began to provide against
the reaction with a system of gerrymander. New York, New
Jersey, Connecticut, Ohio and various other States were so arranged in
their Congressional and legislative districts as to completely drown the will
of the majority and suppress their votes.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the dominant majority in both Houses
of this Congress is the legitimate result of this suppression of the popular will
by the methods of gerrymandering, aided and supplemented by a
skillful application of the “fat” fried out of the tariff beneficiaries and used
for the purposes of floating voters in blocks of five, by the very party
leader who here says that the (Force) bill is intended to defend the
Constitution of the United States against those who…are in the habit
of substituting “processes of fraud, intimidation and bribery” (for
At the present moment there are in the Union but twelve Republican
States, representing some 9,000,000 of people, whilst there are
thirty Democratic States containing 53,000,000 of people; yet the
9,000,000 control both Houses of Congress and every department
The bill is not intended to preserve purity in elections. It is not intended
to defend the Constitution of the United States against those who
would substitute “processes of fraud, intimidation and bribery” for
honest elections. It is intended to resurrect, if possible, the Republican
party and restore its hold on power. To do this, it is intended by this bill
to subject the people of the South once more to the domination of their
recent slaves. The objects at which the provisions of this bill are aimed are
the Democratic South, the great Democratic cities of the North, and
all naturalized citizens.
The policy of subjecting the intelligence and property of the South to
the control of ignorance and poverty is not a new one. It has been tried. To
the candid man who really desires the welfare of his country, the
experiment resulted in a failure so disastrous that he would never desire to
see it repeated.
The carpetbag rulers were infinitely worse than the Negroes. The
evil propensities of the one were directed by intelligence, and the ignorance
of the other became simply the instrument by which the purposes of the
white leaders were carried out. The material and moral ruin wrought under
this infernal conjunction of ignorance and intelligent vice was far greater
than that inflicted by war. The very foundations of public virtue
were undermined, and the seeds of hatred were thickly sown
between the races.
In this great struggle to escape Negro rule and restore our State governments
to the control of those who made them, and whose ancestors had
established their principles in their blood, we had both the aid and
the sympathy of Northern Democrats everywhere. We had neither from you.
You did not even stand by with indifference. You upheld the party the party
of misrule and ignorance in every way you could. You kept the Army of
the United States in the South to overcome the struggling whites as long as
you dared. You sorrowed when the plundering of our people was stopped,
and you received to your arms as martyrs the carpetbag fugitives expelled
by the indignation of an outraged people.
In 1865, the property of North Carolina assessed for taxation
was $121,000,000; in 1860 it had been $292,000,000, showing a loss
of $171,000,000. In 1865, the debt of the State was $10,899,000; in 1871
the debt of the State was $34,887,000. Taxation in 1860 for State and
county purposes was $799,000; in 1870 taxation for State and
county purposes was $2,083,000 per annum.
But such were the recuperative powers of our people when freed from
the corrupt yoke of strangers and permitted to manage their own affairs,
that our taxable property is now assessed at about $230,000,000. Best of
all, under the influence of the kindly associations of these years of labor
and recuperation, race asperities have become softened and white and
black have grown closer to each other in the recognition of the fact that
the interest of one is inseparably connected with the other.
The direct effect, if not the object of this bill will be to disturb this
prosperity and peace. There is made no secret of the fact that it is intended
to secure the domination of the black voters of the South wherever they can
be persuaded or morally coerced by this army of Federal officers into
voting the Republican ticket. It (the bill) is a scheme for managing elections
in the interest of a party as purely as was ever framed by designing politicians."
Senator Zebulon Vance, North Carolina
The Website and its Philosophy:
The 1898 Wilmington Institute for Education and Research is responsible
for this site, and it will continually update the pages with newly transcribed
or discovered historical documents that relate to the period. The visitor
will notice that we have the entire three chapters of Harry Hayden’s
pamphlet, “The Wilmington Rebellion of 1898” on the site, originally
published in 1936 and most difficult to find in printed form.
Also, the “Union League in North Carolina” page will enlighten and inform
the reader about the organization responsible for creating the Ku Klux
Klan; and the “White Supremacy” page communicates to us through the
words of North Carolina Governor Aycock what that term meant in 1898,
and why those two words energized a generation of white Wilmingtonians to
act as they did.
The conflict must be viewed from all sides and perspectives, whether we
agree with the opinion or fact matters not, so that we and later generations
can understand what happened in 1898---and why it happened.
Most importantly, we must understand the context it occurred in and
through the eyes of its participants, that generation of Wilmingtonians,
both white and black, who experienced that context. It is logical to say that
we in this present day cannot know that experience, though we may come
to understand it by avoiding an emotional and judgmental approach to
The intent of this website is to provide historical facts, analysis
and documentation that support a well-reasoned and apolitical approach
to understanding the conflict, and why it took place. Our bibliography page
will give the visitor a point of beginning to gain this understanding, as well as
the pages herein.
The 1898 Wilmington Institute for Education and Research is independent and solely responsible for this site and its contents.
Henry L. Melton, Editor
1898 Wilmington Institute For Education & Research
The content of this website does not necessarily reflect the views or
opinions of the Editor and the Institute, and the information published herein
is presented for the purpose of education and research only.
We welcome questions and submissions from authors and researchers with
further information regarding the 1898 event in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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