1898 Wilmington Race Riot

Daniel L. Russell: Republican, Fusionist:

After a turbulent career in opposition to North Carolina and Confederate war policies, Russell was admitted to the North Carolina bar in 1867 knowing little of the profession of law, but being favored by Reconstruction Governor W.W. Holden.  He was elected a North Carolina Judge of Superior Court in 1868 through his connections with Holden. Governor Russell’s wife admitted that both she and her husband were socialists.

"Among Russell’s first acts as governor was the full pardon of John Statcher, a leading negro politician of Wilmington, and henchman of the Russell-Manning clique.  Statcher was a policeman, found guilty of robbing

a store in Wilmington, at night, while on his beat; he had been caught in the act."  Memoirs of an Octagenarian, John D. Bellamy, Observer Printing House, 1942

Russell  And Fusion Leader James H. Young

Biographical Sketch of Daniel L. Russell:

(Memoirs of an Octogenarian, John D. Bellamy, Oberserver Printing House, 1942. Chapter V, pp. 67-69)

Daniel L. Russell was one of the members of that Bar who is entitled to mention, as the history of the Lower Cape Fear would not be complete without it.  He was always the subject of intense criticism, and there was a great tendency, if not a determination, among many of our best citizens to ignore his existence.  He was a man of very great ability and possessed a clear intellect.  He was not a profound lawyer, because he lacked application, seldom read a judicial decision and relied chiefly on conceding and admitting the law, apparently mitigating against his cause, but had wonderful tact in differentiating it from the position contended for by him. 

He arose in the stormy times of the Reconstruction Period.  He was born with a great wealth for that day, was educated at the best schools of the state and at the University.  He was possessed of an imperious nature and could not brook opposition, and really had the most checquered career of any man of that period.  In an old album of 1860, possessed by one of his classmates at the University, which it was then customary for collegians to keep, he wrote as his motto, “Love and War.”

When the War of Secession broke out, he left college, quickly volunteered, and threw his whole soul, apparently, into the struggle. He equipped, at his own expense, a company of Brunswick County volunteers, became its captain, and tendered it to the Confederacy.  It was assigned to duty at Fort Fisher, where he and his company were kept for about one year.  He tired of the dull monotony of the seashore that prevailed there and the uneventful life became a bore.  He asked to be transferred to the Army of Virginia, where the war was then being waged, so that he could see more active service.  Being refused this request by the War Department, he attempted to forcibly withdraw his company from the Fort and to carry them to Virginia to place them with the military authorities there.  He chartered a boat at his own expense, defied the Commandant of the Fort, and was about to march his company aboard when he was arrested by military authority, cashiered, and deprived of his command.  He was about to be summarily dealt with, according to the laws of war. When through the efforts and influence of Honorable George Davis, then a Senator, in Richmond, in the Confederate Congress, he was paroled and released, and went back to the farm.

Thenceforth, all the zeal and ardor he first possessed for the Confederate cause was turned into the most bitter and implacable hatred of the cause, for which all of his friends and neighbors were then fighting and for which many had already sacrificed their lives.  The conscription authorities endeavored to humiliate him by putting him back into he ranks, but his father, a wealthy and influential planter, had him nominated and elected to the Legislature and appointed County Commissioner of Brunswick County before he was of age, and given other civil appointments to keep him out of the army.  It was under these circumstances, after being arrested by a conscription officer, that he sued out a writ of Habeas Corpus and was taken to Richmond Hall, Yadkin County, where Chief-Justice Person released him, deciding the case as reported in Winston’s Report, page 463.  About this time the cause of the Confederacy collapsed, Reconstruction came on, and although then scarcely eligible by age, he was elected a Reconstruction judge. He was bitter toward his people and specially toward his old associates, and in turn was hotly denounced as a scalawag and completely ostracized, and even hated. 

The Democratic press of that day never relaxed its criticism, never relented.  When his term of office expired, he had made a reputation for ability, but his very name was desecrated, for he was the brains of the party in power, and all of the offensive acts of the regime of scalawags and carpetbaggers in the east were laid at his door; consequently, the bitter dislike of the people of his section continued, and he never retrieved their respect to the day of his death.  He afterwards became a member of Congress from the Wilmington District, defeating the gifted and idolized Waddell, and made there a reputation for ability.  Subsequently, he was Governor of the State, residing in Raleigh.  After his election he gloated over his success and triumph over his former foes, and in assuming the duties of his office he displayed his vindictiveness, the first words of his inaugural address being, “There is retribution in history.”   While there in office he had a checquered career, barely escaping impeachment.  He was a man of great ability, a forceful and strong debater, an intense partisan and relentless hater. 

His history reads like a character of the French Revolution.  He arose, figured largely on the horizon of his day, and died, and its strange to say that in a pamphlet entitled “Chronicles of the Lower Cape Fear,” noted for its inaccuracies rather than for any historical merit, he is not even mentioned as existing or ever having existed; but surely he was the most conspicuous figure of the period.


Russell On Republican Candidates in North Carolina:

”the Republican Party is in trouble, not the least of our difficulties is the fact that our federal office holders, composed almost entirely of the carpetbag class, are utterly inefficient, politically worthless and intensely selfish. Their devotion to the Party consists of the love for their salaries and fees incident to the holding of office. Take these away and they return north or go over to the enemy (conservatives). Deserving (southern) men, good speakers and first rate politicians are our own people and they are thrust aside to keep the northern men in power."

Judge Daniel L. Russell, 1874

(Letter to prominent Piedmont Republican Thomas Settle)

Russell On Black Voting Rights and the Republican Party:

“…if Massachusetts and Rhode Island can disenfranchise poor and humble citizens of foreign birth within their State limits, then South Carolina and Mississippi can easily avoid what they regard as the danger of universal Negro suffrage”

Russell knew that the Northern States utilized voter restrictions and qualifications, and had little reason to denounce poll taxes and literacy tests in the South.

The Republican party in all the Negro belt is weaker today than it has ever been since the day of its birth on Southern soil. It is hard to find one young white man of ability and promise who admits himself to be a Republican. Many of the best federal offices have been given to colored men, although it might have been simple justice to recognize all elements in the distribution of party rewards, the administration has been misled by unscrupulous politicians into appointing black men whose conduct makes them offensive to the white people of their communities. Until recently…the colored people have been disposed to invite the leadership of respectable white men. But now, the tendency is towards the elevation of the most corrupt Negro element to control of the party in the black counties..  In places the GOP was nothing more than a Negro party and “there is scarcely a precinct in the black belt where you can find active white Republicans enough to obtain even the semblance of a fair election.”

(Raleigh Signal, April 7, 1892, Address of Leading White Republicans, D.L. Russell & George W. Stanton)  

Republican Party "Corrupted and Demoralized":

In  1872, Daniel Russell informed Tod R. Caldwell, the Republican governor of North Carolina that the Republican party in Wilmington was “corrupted and demoralized” by the fact that “there is no leading mind to direct it, no lawyer or speaker to address it, nobody but a mass of colored men and a few managers. He suggested that the right man (himself) in the solicitor’s office could remedy this. (McDuffie, page 347)

Russell: "All Negroes Are Natural Born Thieves."

As the centers of Republican strength in Wilmington and New Hanover county were the first and fifth wards, Republican activity revolved around these two wards. Most of the Republicans in the first and fifth wards were blacks, and they quickly divided into anti and pro-Russell Republicans. One anti-Russell meeting, attended only by black Republicans, adopted resolutions opposing Russell’s nomination (for governor). The Republicans present at the meeting complained that Russell had “declared, repeatedly, against the citizenship of the Negro.”

The opposition to Russell did not stop with the adoption of resolutions; and Armand Scott, editor of the Wilmington Sentinel, continued to incite the blacks in southeastern North Carolina against the Wilmington lawyer. Scott stressed that “the Negro race has not an enemy greater than this man.” An anti-Russell article in Scott’s Sentinel attacked Russell’s character and asserted that the ex-judge would not be nominated since “there are too many self-respecting Negroes in this State who will not support a tyrant.”  The article reported that Russell had called black’s “savages” and had denied that they were fit to vote.  (Note: In opposing Russell, (black editor Armand) Scott gave prominent coverage to a statement that Russell supposedly made while he was a Superior Court Judge.  Scott quoted Russell as having stated: All Negroes are natural born thieves.  They will steal six days in the week and go to church on Sunday and shout and pray it off.” (Scott, “up Through Hell,” pp. 18-21) (McDuffie, page 453)

Russell's Political Intrigue in Wilmington:

Russell did not stand by idly, and he moved to squelch the opposition in New Hanover county to his candidacy (for governor). (Frederick B.) Rice, a former ally, had opposed Russell before the North Carolina Republican Executive Committee and in the county convention; and the ex-judge attempted to force him back in line. Since Rice held the lucrative position of City Clerk and Treasurer, Russell had an instrument to use against him.  Although Russell was not a member of the Police Board, the five men on it were Russell allies; and they elected John E. Taylor, a black Republican member of the Board, to replace Rice as City Clerk and Treasurer.  Not only would Taylor’s election remove Rice from the office, but the elevation of the black man to this municipal post would quiet some of the criticism about Russell’s anti-black sentiments.

(McDuffie, pp. 432-434)

Russell Refuses To Deliver Opening Speech at Negro State Fair:

A day or two after the (November, 1898) election, the Negro State Fair was held in Raleigh.  The Negro manager had invited Governor Russell to open the fair, but he declined the invitation. On the morning of the opening of the fair, Parson Leak, Methodist preacher who had been a Republican leader in 1894 and 1896, but who had broken with Jim Young and the other Negro leaders in 1898, came by and asked me to make a speech opening the fair. I told the parson that in view of my activity in the white supremacy campaign, I felt that the Negroes might not relish my addressing them.

“On the contrary,” he said, “this old rascal 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.”

And so I went out and opened the Negro Fair. The Negroes had assembled in great numbers. I tried to voice to them the genuine friendship which the leaders of white supremacy felt for them and pointed out that it was a campaign not directed at the law-abiding and industrious Negro, but at the Negro slave-drivers of which Russell was at the head, and assured them that the day of election for them was really a day of emancipation from corrupt party leaders.

The Negro leaders followed---Professor Bruce, of Shaw University, and John C. Dancy, collector of customs at Wilmington, and other wise Negroes---and counseled peace and acceptance of the situation, so that in a few days the State was as quiet as if there had never been a heated campaign.

(Editor In Politics, Josephus Daniels, pp. 311-312.)

Sources and Recommended Reading:

Politics In Wilmington and New Hanover County, North Carolina, 1865-1900. The Genesis of a Race Riot. Jerome A. McDuffie 

Doctoral dissertation,  Kent State University,  1979.

UMI Dissertation Services

Editor In Politics,

Josephus Daniels, UNC Press, 1941

Email: editor@1898wilmington.hypermart.net