1898 Wilmington Race Riot
Alexander Manly & Rebecca Felton:
Alexander Manly and the Wilmington Daily Record:
(Black Wilmingtonian A. Manly was Editor of the Wilmington Daily Record)
Manly’s August 18, 1898 editorial was a response to a speech by Rebecca Latimer Felton, (given 11 August 1897 in Georgia) in which she expressed concern regarding black rapists preying upon white farm women while their husbands worked the fields.
Manly's editorial claiming that black men were not rapists, and that white women encouraged their advances, is credited with igniting the violence in Wilmington in November, 1898; black Collector of Customs John C. Dancy later "informed several audiences in New York that the Manly editorial was "the determining factor" in bringing about the riot." (McDuffie)
Cyrus 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)
North Carolina's Black Citizens Oppose Manly:Manly enjoyed little if any support in Wilmington or North Carolina as his reckless editorials endangered the good feelings and cooperation between the races, especially in Wilmington with a majority black population.
"The Republican Party Executive Committee in 1898 consisted of 14 blacks and 1 white. They adopted a series of resolutions disclaiming any connection with Manly's Daily Record, calling the paper a "kicking, disorganized concern" and denounced the editorial as a "base and vile libel upon countless thousands of good people." They also urged Republicans to cancel their subscriptions to Manly's newspaper. (McDuffie)
"Frank Debnam, a wealthy black leader in Raleigh states that not a word of Manly's editorial expresses the sentiments of the colored people in North Carolina..."I was never so shocked in my life." (McDuffie)
Wilmington's black Collector of Customs John Dancy condemned Manly in the northern press after the event for breaching manly standards. White men had reacted so strongly to Manly's editorial, Dancy argued, because "they will not permit their womanhood to be slandered." Furthermore, Dancy said black leaders respected white men's protection of women, and that chivalry worked to blacks advantage because "the better element in the white race commends an attitude of defense of our womanhood." Dancy then concluded that "the manhood of a race that will not defend its womanhood is unworthy of the respect of that womanhood." (McDuffie)
"Five black Wilmington Republicans urged Manly to suspend the paper and thereby quiet the bitterness growing out of his indiscreet and inflammable utterances. (Those Republicans), W.E. Henderson (lawyer), Charles Norwood (Register of Deeds), Elijah Green (Alderman), John E. Taylor (Deputy Collector of Customs) and John C. Dancy (Collector of Customs)." (McDuffie)
"Black Republicans outside of Wilmington also criticised Manly's blunder and attempted to discredit the black editor. (McDuffie)
It was common knowledge that many colored citizens were attempting to have Manly's Daily Record removed from the city.
Rebecca Felton's Speech in Georgia:
For better understanding the context of the Manly editorial, the following two paragraphs are a synopsis provided by author Jerome McDuffie, Politics in Wilmington and New Hanover County, 1865-1900.)
|Rebecca Latimer Felton|
"A speech by Rebecca Latimer Felton, crusading wife of William H. Felton, an outstanding Populist leader in Georgia prompted Alexander Manly to write an editorial. The Georgia Agricultural Society had invited Felton to speak at the Society’s annual meeting in 1897 and she selected as her topic the problems faced by farm wives. In her speech on August 11, 1897, she informed her audience that black rapists were the greatest danger facing farm wives. She declared that the money being collected for foreign missions could be better spent at home educating poor young white girls since the carelessness of the poor white men of the South meant that poor white girls were left very much to themselves and unprotected. Turning her attention to how farm wives could be protected, Felton emotionally declared:
“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 form the ravening human beasts----then I say lynch, a thousand times a week if necessary.”
Felton also discussed the situation in North Carolina and she cautioned the state’s Republicans: “You 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. “ She stressed that the Republicans had “encouraged the ignorant Negroes in thinking that the success of the party…insures him against the just penalty of his wrongdoing.” This female orator believed that since the white Republicans had depicted white Democrats as being bitter enemies of the blacks that the black man “in his ignorance…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."
Rebecca Ann Latimer Felton, Georgia Reformer:
Rebecca Latimer was born near Decatur, Georgia, on June 10, 1835. She was graduated first in her class from the Madison Female College, Madison, Georgia, in 1852 and the following year married William H. Felton, a local physician active in liberal Democratic politics. She assisted her husband in his political career (as a U.S. Congressman and later in the state legislature), writing speeches, planning campaign strategy, and later helping to draft legislation. Together the Felton’s promoted penal reform, temperance, and women's rights.
She served on the board of lady managers of the Chicago Exposition (1893), as head of the women's executive board of the Cotton States and International Exposition (1894-95) in Atlanta, Georgia, and on the agricultural board at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (1904) in St. Louis, Missouri.
In 1922 Governor Thomas W. Hardwick of Georgia, in a symbolic gesture, appointed Mrs. Felton to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of Senator Thomas E. Watson, whose antagonism to former President Woodrow Wilson and all of his policies she heartily shared. She served only two days, Nov. 21-22, 1922, before being succeeded by Walter F. George, the duly elected senator. Her writings include My Memoirs of Georgia Politics (1911), Country Life in Georgia in the Days of My Youth (1919), and The Romantic Story of Georgia Women (1930).
She died in Atlanta, Georgia, on January 24, 1930.
Excerpts of Rebecca Latimer Felton’s Speech to the Georgia Agricultural Society, August 11, 1897.
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 poor young 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 form the ravening human beasts----then I say lynch, a thousand times a week if necessary.”
Politics was central to Felton’s perspective. 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.”
Sources and Recommended Reading:
Politics in Wilmington and New Hanover County, 1865-1900. The Genesis of a Race Riot. Jerome A. McDuffie.
Doctoral dissertation, Kent State University, 1979
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