Violence in 1898 that resulted in the only known forceful overthrow of a city government in U.S. history historically has been called a race riot but actually was an insurrection that white supremacists had planned for months, a state commission concludes.
The violence in Wilmington, which resulted in the deaths of an unknown number of black people, “was part of a statewide effort to put white supremacist Democrats in office and stem the political advances of black citizens,” the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission concludes in a draft report.
Afterward, white supremacists in state office passed laws that disfranchised blacks until the civil rights movement and Voting Rights Act of the 1960s.
At the time of the violence, black men in North Carolina had been able to vote for about three decades as part of Reconstruction after the Civil War, said Jeffrey Crow, deputy secretary of the state Office of Archives and History, which researched the report.
But within a year of the insurrection, the General Assembly was controlled by Democrats and had passed the first Jim Crow law that ended voting rights to blacks.
The General Assembly established the commission in 2000. Its draft report was opened for public comment last week.
Some commission members have suggested financing historical exhibitions about the riot and its consequences, portraying it in school history texts and developing economic interests in affected areas.
“Because Wilmington rioters were able to murder blacks in daylight and overthrow Republican government without penalty or federal intervention, everyone in the state, regardless of race, knew that the white supremacy campaign was victorious on all fronts,” the report says.
The report documents the deaths of 22 blacks.
“We’ll never know how many people died,” said LeRae Umfleet, the state archives researcher who has worked with the commission since 2003. “There are not enough tombstones to tell us everyone that was murdered.”