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Racial Politics That Promote Racial Hostility '98 Wilmington

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PostPosted:     Post subject: Racial Politics That Promote Racial Hostility '98 Wilmington Reply with quote

"......the saddest part of this episode is not only the continued betrayal of the public trust by the elected official who led this effort, but the intentional racial politics that promote racial hostility through a fraudulently-concocted rewriting of history to drain the public treasury."

Sic Semper Tyrannis.

Sanitized "Wright Version" of 1898 Wilmington Conflict Heads For the Oblivion It Deserves"

The Raleigh News & Observer reporter Kristin Collins (below) once again misleads the Observer readership with a version of the 1898 Wilmington conflict that is without basis in fact or reason.
It did not take 100 years to bring the events of November 1898 to light, they have been quite visible in various historical accounts since that time, and especially in the 1970's and 1980's when several masters and doctoral dissertations made the conflict a focus of research. What Collins reports upon is the intentional rewriting of history led by Rep. Thomas Wright (who is now under criminal investigation for campaign contribution misdeeds) and supported by the North Carolina Department of Archives &History staff.

The latter's involvement should give pause to any taxpayer who believes it is the State's goal to be impartial and objective in its pursuit of our history. Instead of balancing the 1898 Democratic drive to dislodge the Republicans from political power with a full accounting of what corrupt methods the latter used to attain its dominance with black votes, Wright and his politically-appointed colleagues report is erroneously fixated on the "white supremacy" moniker of the Democrats as a means to achieve their real goal---financial reparations.

As a citizen who monitored the quarterly meetings of the State-created commission since 2003, and its several public hearings, I witnessed no evidence of economic loss brought forward by black residents to justify the reparations-intent of the commission. From the commission's beginnings, I heard the issue of reparations brought up several times in their meetings, yet Collins does not mention this as the ultimate goal of Wright or the WRRC.

I did witness several times that meetings were called to order and business conducted by the WRRC without the required quorum of members being present, which Archives &History supervisor Mike Hill stated "was the chairman's call." Despite making my copious meeting minutes available to the Wilmington Star News and Collins, Wright's penchant for keeping the meetings out of the public eye goes unreported. Even WRRC member Kenneth Davis, mentioned in Collins article below, chastised Wright for missing too many meetings to the point that Joyner was considered the actual chairman, and that "the public was not being notified of WRRC meetings."

The only notice the public could normally find of WRRC meetings was on the Secretary of State's website, on an obscure page. And meeting dates were usually announced a day or so beforehand. Wright also directed WRRC members to not share any WRRC information with the public, and I had to cite Public Records law and threaten legal action in order to get Archives &History staff to release an early draft report to me.

As she claims that many in Wilmington did not know of the 1898 conflict until the 1990's, Collins displays an ignorance of the plethora of information and publications available before that time. The most informative is Jerome McDuffie's 843-page 1979 doctoral dissertation "Politics in Wilmington and New Hanover County, 1865-1900," which covers the 1890's period in great detail. Other fine accounts of 1898-era Wilmington politics appeared in Hugh Talmadge Lefler's "History of North Carolina" 1954, "The Life and Speeches of Charles B. Aycock" in 1912, John D. Bellamy's 1942 "Memoirs of an Octogenarian," Harry Hayden's 1936 "Story of the Wilmington Rebellion," James Sprunt's 1916 "Chronicles of the Cape Fear," Alfred Moore Waddell's "Some Memories of My Life," 1908 and "Maverick Republican in the Old North State," by Jeffrey Crow, 1977, to name a few. As these and many others predate the 1990's, how does Collins claim that this episode in Wilmington history was unknown to many until a decade ago?

The answer is that Collins, the N&O, the Star News and Wright's WRRC are all seeking reparations, and the existing histories do not portray the conflict as one of "racist white citizens" depriving black's of property, nor do they ignore the black voters responsibility for electing corrupt Republican politicians. Once Rep. Wright's goal of financial reparations was determined, the proper political appointees were put on the WRRC and a researcher was found who would sift sufficient facts to support the drive for reparations, and ignore anything that didnt. It is worth surmising that Wright imagined that any eventual distribution of reparations would be overseen by he and his selected colleagues, and handled in the manner of campaign contributions.

In her hopelessly naive version of the conflict, Collins omits the important fact that responsible residents, both black and white, wanted Alexander Manly's newspaper to be silenced. Also, white citizens (her "mob") marched to the newspaper office (after the peaceful demand that it be shut down was ignored) and were fired upon by a black sniper. The presence of armed blacks is played down by the WRRC, and it is noteworthy that the first version of the Archives &History 1898 website showed a vintage depiction of blacks brandishing rifles during the conflict, and the WRRC requested that this be changed. Apparently this would not support the view that the black community were innocent victims set upon by violent white people.

While Collins mentions "fervid opposition" to Wright's 1898 bills in the Legislature, she is silent on the opposition that has existed for several years---all she need do is ask citizens in Raleigh, and any historian in Wilmington who is not affiliated with the Star News or the PC university to get an earful about an event that happened 109 years ago that doesnt affect anyone today. To her credit, she has in a previous article directed readers to the site which offers a more objective and insightful account of the conflict, and what brought it on.

As I have stated before, the entire saga of the 1898 WRRC has been a colossal waste of tax dollars spent on a sordid enterprise of trying to find victims when there are none, using the Department of Archives &History to revise history, and to promote class warfare with today's taxpayers being blamed for a "crime" that cannot be proven, and targeted for robbery by reprehensible politicians in the name of the State. And the saddest part of this episode is not only the continued betrayal of the public trust by the elected official who led this effort, but the intentional racial politics that promote racial hostility through a fraudulently-concocted rewriting of history to drain the public treasury.

Sic Semper Tyrannis.

Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Post Office Box 328
Wilmington, NC 28402

Effort to Acknowledge 1898 Riot Heads for Oblivion

Kristin Collins, Staff Writer

It took more than 100 years to bring the race riot of 1898 into the light. Now, the past seems, once again, to be fading. A package of laws intended to correct the century-old damage, caused by a white supremacist plot to drive blacks from power in Wilmington, has been all but ignored. And the movement's legislative champion, Rep. Thomas Wright, is embroiled in scandal.

"We agonized over this whole process," said Kenny Davis, a member of a commission that spent six years studying the riot. "We came up with recommendations that would improve the quality of life, not only for African Americans, but for everybody in the community. And now they're not being pursued."

Wright, an eight-term legislator from Wilmington, filed 10 bills on the issue when the legislative session started. All but one have failed even to come up for discussion. The remaining bill -- a simple acknowledgment that the incident occurred -- passed the House but faces uncertainty in the Senate.

Some commission members, who worked to uncover what had been one of the state's least-known and darkest episodes, say they are concerned that Wright is no longer effective and that their work may not result in the change they had hoped for.

"I had left it up to Rep. Wright to guide us," said Irving Joyner, a law professor at N.C. Central University and the commission's vice chairman. "Now the viability of that strategy is in question."

In the past few weeks, Wright has become the subject of a criminal investigation. The State Board of Elections says he failed to report more than $200,000 in political contributions, accepted prohibited corporate donations and spent campaign cash on personal expenses. The governor, along with several other leading Democrats, have asked him to resign.

Wright said this week that his current troubles have nothing to do with the lack of support for repairing the damage that 1898 did to blacks in Wilmington.

"I never expected a quick resolution to this horrific event that happened 108 years ago," Wright said. "These kinds of issues, as emotionally charged as they are, it just takes time."

Study commission

The state legislature created a 13-member commission to study the riot in 2000, after the event's centennial stirred discussion. Until a decade ago, many in Wilmington didn't know about the riot and others had written it off as myth.

At the commission's request, a state researcher pored over historical documents. The report she produced, released last June, said the riot stemmed from a campaign led by white supremacist Democrats, including former News &Observer publisher Josephus Daniels, who wanted to push blacks out of public office.

The riot's organizers incited residents of Wilmington, then the state's largest city, to storm the city's black-owned newspaper. The office was set ablaze, and an angry mob killed an unknown number of blacks.

A white-run government was installed, and the era of Jim Crow gripped the state soon after.

Wright, who headed the commission, said he would push the state to make amends for an event that still hobbles blacks in Wilmington.

Wright's bills would provide funding for the development of school curriculum, museum exhibits, library collections, monuments and a documentary about the riot. Another bill would establish a new commission to search for ways to provide minority business incentives, increase minority home ownership and catalog the effects of racism on blacks. Another asks the state to issue a formal apology. Still another allows those whose relatives were killed or lost property in the riot to file claims for reparations.

He said he has done his best, proposing legislation to enact every one of the commission's recommendations. While he admits that most won't pass this session, he said they could come up again next year. And he said he is gaining support for adding the riot to public school history curriculum, with or without dedicated funding.

But he said commission members have failed to help him lobby, and that many of his fellow legislators are against acknowledging the past's lingering effects.

Fervid opposition

Even Wright's bill acknowledging the riot occurred faced fervent opposition. It passed 67-47.

Leo Daughtry, a Smithfield Republican, was one of those who voted against it. He said the legislature should concern itself with the issues of today: roads, public education, taxes. He said he would oppose any plan to fund remembrances of 1898, whether with a monument or with reparations to descendants of victims.

"I don't see where it would serve any purpose at this point to spend money on an event that occurred a hundred years ago that didn't affect any person living today," Daughtry said.

Commission members said they didn't expect all Wright's bills to pass. But they said they expected many to at least spark discussion, and they hoped that measures as simple as providing $10,000 for a monument to the riot would succeed this session.

Joyner, the law professor, said he is going to start looking for a new champion for the 1898 initiatives.

Rep. Earl Jones, a Greensboro Democrat, is co-sponsoring many of the bills and said this week that he will work for their passage, but so far he has let Wright take the lead. New Hanover County Sen. Julia Boseman, who helped lead the commission, didn't return phone calls seeking comment.

"Unless there is some effort to develop this with other legislators, these proposals will just die," Joyner said. "If they have not died already."

Staff writer Kristin Collins can be reached at 829-4881 or

© Copyright 2007, The News &Observer Publishing Company
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