1898 Wilmington Race Riot

1898 Wilmington Research Worth Reading: Oct. 2006

The 1898 Wilmington Institute for Education and Research

Understanding The Conflict and Its Origins:


The racial conflict of November, 1898 in Wilmington, North Carolina, sometimes labeled a race riot or rebellion, was the unfortunate result of many years of post-war political corruption, enforced Reconstruction upon Wilmington and North Carolina, and the concomitant Republican party dominance in the City.

That dominance was allowed and sustained by a majority-black population which kept a small group of Northern carpetbag politicians in office for many years after the close of the War Between the States. The Fusion of the Republican and Populist parties in 1894 created a political environment that white citizens feared would lead to a repeat of the Reconstruction horror they had endured under a previously dominant Republican party, blindly supported by the freedmen. A political opportunist who publicly denigrated his black supporters, Governor Daniel L. Russell helped sow the seeds of the November, 1898 conflict with his patronage payoffs to loyal black leaders who delivered the black vote and overlooked his overt dislike of their race---political position over principles.

"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 Octogenarian, John D. Bellamy, Observer Printing House, 1942.


Street Scene in 1898 Wilmington

As the reader navigates this website, a question you will want to answer in your mind is why the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce issued the following statement, signed by 40 economic leaders of the City, on October 6, 1898 (published October 20, 1898):

"Be it resolved that the present political situation in the City and County is a menace to peace and order."

What sort of adverse and tense political situation had developed in this City that would cause 40 respected economic leaders to issue such a statement? If political conditions prior to 1894 had been more positive, what had transpired to create such a fear of chaos?

One such issue was the smallpox epidemic that hit Wilmington in January, 1898, with black citizens rioting and burning two houses to quarantine those suffering, and minimize the spread of the disease.  A large mass meeting of mostly blacks assembled at City Hall  on January 27, 1898, to protest mandatory smallpox vaccination in the city, no doubt perplexing those who wished better health conditions.

We must always ask the question "Why," and demand an accounting of unbiased information and fact to help us form an objective opinion.

The answers to the many questions regarding the causes of the racial conflict is the intent of our website, and we hope this will be achieved by a deliberate and objective review of both sides of the issue; and conclusions drawn from scholarly pursuit and without emotion clouding the facts.

We shall begin with the recollections of one of the major participants in the election campaign of November, 1898, and his own words will raise many questions to be answered:

Josephus Daniels on the Defeat of "Russellism." in 1898:

Josephus Daniels

"And so I went out and opened the Negro (State) 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 (Governor) Russell was at he head, and assured them that the day of election for them was really a day of emancipation from corrupt (Republican) party leaders;

That Lincoln's emancipation proclamation had struck from their hands the shackles of physical slavery, and the defeat of Russellism had struck from them the shackles of political slavery to an office-holding crowd who were ready to use them for their own enrichment. "

Josephus Daniels, Editor of the Raleigh News and Observer, November, 1898


Republican "Bossism" In Wilmington:

"(Negro voters) have elected white bosses to the positions, and they have drawn the pay while the Negro was taught to curse and vote against the Democrat. They had been taught by the bosses to hate those with whom they had been raised and lived with all their lives, greatly to their disadvantage."

James A. Lowrey, Chairman of the (black) Independent Republican Convention, held in New Hanover County, August 18, 1888.)

"The Rev. (Isaiah F.) Aldridge issued a notice in the Morning Star on October 28, 1888 stating that  "On the day of election I will vote the National and State Republican ticket, and the honest Republican ticket of New Hanover County...I have been informed by the (Republican) Bosses that I must keep quiet and vote for them or be removed from the pastoral charge of Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church."

(Strength Through Struggle, William Reaves, NHC Library, 1998)


What Caused The Racial Conflict in 1898?:

The following excerpt from Hamilton's "Reconstruction in North Carolina" synopsizes the issue facing white Wilmingtonians in November 1898, and allows us to understand the future they faced. That future was understood in terms of the past, and what the result of black-supported, and Republican-dominated State government meant for them.

"In 1894, by a fusion with the Populists, the Republicans won control of the legislature, and two years later elected a Fusion State ticket, a Populist and a Republican senator, a majority of the members of Congress, and most of the judges. By wise exercise of power they might have retained control, but the experience of the past had taught them little if anything, and it soon became apparent to the State that the net result of Republican victory was corruption, misgovernment, and control by the Negroes in the eastern part of the State.

An example of the doings of the legislature may be found in its action in 1895 when it refused to adjourn on Lee's and Washington's birthdays, but did adjourn in honor of Fred(erick) Douglass when the news of his death was recieved. This may have been a fair expression of the sentiments of the majority, but it was also, to put it in the mildest form, poor politics, and there were other acts just as insane.

In 1898, upon the issue of white supremacy, the Democrats were able to win back the support of the rank and file of the Populists and elect the legislature. A constitutional amendment, restricting the suffrage by educational qualification accompanied by a "grandfather clause" was adopted and submitted to the people and ratified in 1900. In the same year, the Democrats elected their State ticket.

An educational revival followed, since the party had pledged itself to maintain an efficient system of schools which would in the future protect everyone from disenfranchisement regardless of color. "

(Reconstruction in North Carolina, Joseph G. DeR. Hamilton, 1914, Book For Libraries Press, pp. 666-667)

"White Supremacy" Democrats Appoint Black Judges of Election.

The reader is encouraged to read our "White Supremacy" page to understand what the term meant in 1898, and its misinterpretation today. The campaign broadside found below shows that white Democrats did indeed include black citizens in their efforts toward responsible government in North Carolina, and that they encouraged black participation (See Josephus Daniel's quote below).

In the same manner, what was termed "Negro Domination" is not the same as is imagined today---a numerical majority. Read on to our "Negro Domination" to gain insights into how this term applied to 1898 Wilmington.

Knowing that white and black Republican relations were not always amicable, it is not surprising to read of a white Republican telling a Northern visitor that he favored voting for Negroes but that he was strongly against their demands for holding office. "I will not vote to make the Negro my ruler," he declared with feeling; "I am a Republican, but I was a white man before I was a Republican."

Despite Democrats sincere attempts at enticing responsible black voters into their party, the many years of Republican-inspired hatred instilled in the black citizenry by carpetbag politicians (see "The Union League page), the blacks would stay attached to, and dominate the Republican party in Wilmington. That domination was underscored by Thomas J. Jarvis in 1896 when he stated that the Republicna party in North Carolina was "composed of about 100,000 Negro voters and about 10,000 white voters who want office." In Wilmington in 1881, there were 1604 registered Negro Republicans to 1246 registered white Republicans. If this is true, then the Democrats concern over "Negro Domination" in Wilmington seemed to be valid.

(The Negro In North Carolina, 1876-1894, Frenise A. Logan, UNC Press, 1964)


Campaign Broadside Circa 1898


Copyright 2005
1898 Wilmington Institute for Education & Research
Post Office Box 638, Wilmington, NC 28402

We welcome questions and submissions from authors and researchers with
further information regarding the 1898 event in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Email: editor@1898wilmington.hypermart.net