1898 Wilmington Race Riot

Reconstruction Education In The South:

The racial conflict of November 1898 in Wilmington clearly has its origins in 1865 when Wilmington was occupied by northern troops, and its elected government replaced by martial law.  The reconstruction acts of the US Congress imposed an alien governmental system on North Carolina in which it had no voice, and gave no consent to.  The State's exemplary public school system established by Calvin H. Wiley was destroyed by the war and replaced with a fraudulent carpetbag system replete with corrupt northern administrators.

The first excerpt below describes in general the condition of schools in North Carolina after the War and under the carpetbag government, and one can see how the specter of Republican party corruption gaining acendancy in the mid-1890's put fear in the hearts of many Wilmingtonians, and provided the impetus to force a "regime change" in 1898.


Education During Reconstruction

(Edgar W. Knight, Public Education in The South, Ginn and Co., 1922. 

pp. 367-370)

S.S. Ashley, a minister from Massachusetts, was elected the first superintendent of schools for North Carolina under the reconstruction plan.  He was a man of some ability, but very narrow in view and so prejudiced that he was not always cautious in his behavior.  He was especially interested in mixed schools for the State, and this interest served to make him very unpleasant to the native conservative population. 

His first report appeared in November, 1868, before the new educational legislation had been enacted, and showed that almost nothing was being done for public schools.  The income for school purposes was very meager and in striking contrast to the liberal fund for school support before 1860.  

Several outside agencies were aiding in education in the State, however, during this time.  Among them were the Baltimore Association of Friends, the Soldiers’ Memorial Society of Boston, the American Unitarian Association, and the Peabody Board.  The education of the freedmen was receiving attention from the Freedmen’s Bureau, the New England Freedmen’s Relief Association, the New York Freedmen’s Relief Association, the American Missionary Association, the Friends’ Freedmen’s Aid Association, the Presbyterian General Assembly, and other organizations.  Through Reverend F. A. Fiske, of Massachusetts, an educational campaign for the freedmen was carried on by the Freedmen’s Bureau, and the Peabody Board was aiding several towns to maintain schools and was stimulating interest in public education generally.

Lack of funds, scarcity of teachers, defective legislation, uncertainty and confusion, partisan strife, and fraud and extravagance in the state government promised nothing but failure for the new school system, which was meeting obstacles at almost every point.  Added to these ills was a decision of the supreme court which held that the provision of the school law of 1869 for local school taxes was unconstitutional and could not be enforced.  And with public opinion so strongly against levying of school taxes under the radical regime, the entire school system was practically inoperative.

The legislature which met in the fall of 1870 was largely conservative and concerned itself almost entirely with the impeachment of Governor Holden.  But two acts of educational importance were passed.  One reduced the salary of the state superintendent from $2400 to $1500, removed the clerical force of the officer, and allowed him no funds for traveling expenses; the other looked to the better protection of the literary fund.  Both acts reflected reaction to the radical regime, and that reaction continued for many years after the final overthrow of reconstruction.  In the fall of 1871 conservative influence enacted a new school law to take the place of that of 1869 and with more liberal provisions for public education.  Among these provisions was that of a property and a special capitation tax for school support.  Plans were also provided for institutes for the training of teachers, and the report of the superintendent for 1872 was much better than that of any previous reconstruction reports of the schools work of the State.  But conditions were yet far from satisfactory.  The principle of public taxation for school support was receiving wider acceptance, but its application to the needs and conditions of the State was a more difficult task.  Moreover, the fear of mixed schools and the agitation in Congress of the Civil Rights Bill added confusion and alarm.

Between 1873 and 1875 only slight improvement appeared.  The concluding steps to overthrow the rule of reconstruction were taken in the constitutional convention of 1875, however, and in the campaign which followed the next year the work of the convention was of great political and social importance, because many changes were made which promised the promotion of better government in the State.  

In many respects public education in North Carolina during reconstruction suffers when compared with that of the ante-bellum period.  Teachers were paid a higher salary in North Carolina before the war than during reconstruction or until after 1900.  A larger percentage of the school population was enrolled in school in 1860 than at any time during reconstruction.  Moreover, the reconstruction regime failed to improve the provisions for state, county, and local administrative organization and supervision.  Finally, evidence is strong that had the native conservative element of the State been free to act without unwholesome influences from the outside a safer and more adequate educational plan than that supplied by reconstruction would have been outlined and promoted.


Calvin H. Wiley was the great force behind the drive for outstanding public schools in antebellum North Carolina, superintending over a system far superior to the one imposed on the State after the War ended. Wiley served as State Superintendent of Public Instruction from 1853 to 1865.

Calvin H. Wiley and the Common Schools

(Guion G. Johnson, Ante-Bellum North Carolina, The University of North Carolina Press, 1937. pp.277-282)

Born in Guilford County in 1819 of Scotch-Irish descent, a student at Caldwell Institute in Greensboro and a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Wiley was already popular in the State as a lawyer, author, editor, and politician before his appointment as state superintendent of public instruction.  He took to his office an enthusiasm for his work and a genuine devotion to North Carolina.  His theory of education was the old Jeffersonian doctrine which had been expressed in the State since the time of the Revolution: popular education is the basis of a republic form of government.  It was Wiley, however, who sought to popularize the theory in North Carolina.  From Cherokee to Currituck, in his speeches, letters, and reports, he constantly preached the doctrine that a “system of common schools for a great and growing state is a vast and sublime moral obligation.”

During the twelve years that he was superintendent, he made the accomplishment of these objectives the chief duties in his office.  He seldom had difficulty in obtaining legislation for improving the machinery of the school system.  He gradually won the cooperation of the county and district committees, and in the end made the public schools a credit to the State.  It was no idle boast when he declared in 1860, “North Carolina has the start of all her Southern sisters in educational matters.”

In 1860 Wiley had been in office only seven years; yet in that short period he had revolutionized the public school system of North Carolina.  The number of school districts had increased from about 3,000 in 1853 to 3,471 in 1860; the number of schools from 2,500 to 3,082; the number of children in school from 95,000 to 118,852; the number of licensed teachers from 800 to 2,752; the expenditures from $150,000 in 1854 to $278,000 in 1860. He had been unable, however, to lengthen the school term; it remained at about four months until the close of the ante-bellum period.

Wiley also conceived the idea of licensing teachers.  He prepared a form of certificate which was to indicate the grade or rank of the teacher on spelling, reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and grammar, and sent these forms to the examining committees with the instructions that each teacher appearing before them should be given a graded certificate, figure 1 signifying the highest grade of scholarship and figure 5 the lowest.  He encouraged teachers to continue their education; he urged the establishment of normal schools for the training of teachers; he recommended the creation of district libraries, the erection of district teachers’ halls, and the organization of county teachers’ associations. In 1858 he was still looking forward to the time when “every teacher in the State…will, annually, be carefully examined, and have his mental and moral character fully tested,” for he was still receiving such complaints as the following from Wadesboro: “The great obstacle to public schools in this county is the small number of persons who are qualified and willing to teach.”

The first convention of teachers which assembled in the ante-bellum period was that which met in Chapel Hill during the commencement exercises of the University in June 1831, and organized the North Carolina Institute of Education “to diffuse knowledge on the subject of education, and by every proper means to improve the condition of common schools and other literary institutions in our State.”  In 1856 Wiley organized the

Education Association of North Carolina which the Legislature chartered in 1860.



Reconstruction as Re-Education

The Paradox of Jabez L. M. Curry, (pp.26-31, 33, 43-46)

The era after the War for Southern Independence is called Reconstruction.  It would be more apt to call it Deconstruction.  Constitutional law and state sovereignty were abolished in the South.  In its place came a nationalized government, with the states as vassals to Washington’s authority.

Most important from Washington’s perspective, Reconstruction meant the re-education of the ‘rebels’, so that they would have the same mentality as Northerners and would never consider secession again.  Via new Reconstruction constitutions, the Federal government controlled Southern education.

One Radical Republican said: ‘What can education do for the slave-holders?  The majority of those who formerly held slaves are now just what they were before and during the war and I am extremely doubtful whether there are any means by which they can be made, as a class, good and loyal citizens…If pardoned, they will trouble every community in which they live with ill-concealed treason.  They have already been sadly miseducated and would scornfully reject all proffers of education at our hands…What can education do for the non-slave holding whites of the South?  Among this class are some intelligent men.  But the great majority are deplorably ignorant.  More ignorant than the slaves themselves… As long as they remain ignorant they will remain tools of political demagogues and therefore will be incapable of self-government.  They must be educated; the duty is imperative.  No state that has passed an act of secession should be allowed to take its former place in the Union without having first incorporated into its constitution a provision for the establishment of a free school system.  A republic must make education universal among its people.  Ignorant voters endanger liberty.  With free schools in the South there could have been no rebellion.  And free schools now must render impossible rebellion in the future.’

Jabez Curry retaliated against this false, politically motivated charge of Southern ignorance this way: ‘In 1860 the Northern states had a population of 19 million, had 205 colleges and universities, with 1,407 professors and 29,044 students.  In the same year, the Southern states had a population of 8 million, 262 colleges and universities, with 1,488 professors and 27,055 students.  These are the figures of the last Census before the war.’

And countering the charge that tax-supported schools were fundamental to a republican form of government, Senator Thurman of Ohio spoke against such an idea in Congress. ‘When did it (education) become essential to a republican form of government that there should be public schools and that everybody should have an equal right in those schools?  If that is the case, how many republican states were there when the Constitution of the United States was formed?  If universal suffrage and universal education upon a perfectly equal footing, applicable to all, are essentially indispensable requisites to a republican form of government, how many states have you now, sir, in the Unites States, that are republican in form?  Why sir, the very statement of the argument shows its utter fallacy.’

Mr. Wickersham. The Radical Republican, then turned his attention to educating the blacks: ‘What can education do for the freedmen?  Four millions of human beings have just been emancipated in the South.  They are now without property, without the knowledge and habits of self-direction and self-reliance; they are ignorant, simple-hearted and superstitious… It still depends on the North – on us – whether the freedmen are to survive the “struggle for life” or like the native red-men, they are to perish…We all know that the freedmen must be educated.  We all know that the education that they need is not merely to read and write but…as well to fit them for their new condition as freedmen and citizens…When our youth learn to read similar books, similar lessons, we shall become one people, possessing one organic nationality, and the Republic will be safe for all time.  It is not the condition of things such that we may begin to speak of a national system of education?’

Jabez Curry countered the notion that blacks were illiterate before the war: ‘For a long time there was no general exclusion of the slaves from the privileges of education.  The first prohibitory and punitive laws were directed against unlawful assemblages of Negroes and mulattoes, as their influence in exciting discontent or insurrection was deprecated and guarded against.

Afterwards, legislation became more general in the South, prohibiting meetings for teaching, reading and writing.  The Nat Turner insurrection in Southampton County, Virginia, in 1831, awakened the Southern states to a consciousness of the perils. Which might environ or destroy them, from combinations of excited, enflamed, and ill-advised Negroes…Severe and general as were these laws, they rarely applied, and were seldom, if ever, enforced against the teaching of individuals or groups on plantations, or at the home of the owners.  It is often true that the mistress of a household, or her children, would teach the house servants, and on Sunday include a large number.  There were also Sunday schools in which black children were taught to read, notably the school in which Stonewall Jackson was the leader.’

The speech by Senator Norton indicates that the nationalizing of education means the elimination of the states: ‘The Senator from Indiana claims…that Congress might legitimately take charge of the regulation of the school system of a state.  I do not know that I quote his precise language, but the idea would seem to imply that if the State of Mississippi had a school system that was not agreeable to the Senator from Indiana or a majority of the Senators on this floor, they might correct that school system to comply with the views of the Senate of the United States…(Then) what becomes of the states? Why have districts or counties bounded by national or imaginary lines?  Why have apportionment of the representatives in the other House, and in this (House) according to the states?  Why not call us, as the Senator from Illinois says, all one people, one country and no state governments and no local governments at all?’

Many carpetbaggers held the deluded dream of ‘impregnating the South with Northern civilization.’  They enlisted the brute force of the military to actualize this dream.  The Army confiscated Southern churches and the properties of many Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian congregations.  Their ministers were called traitors.  Northern ministers were installed at bayonet point. Federal government money paid their salaries and built new churches.

This was unconstitutional.  It fused Church and State.  These subsidized churches became governmental bureaucracies, promoting radical Republican policies.  ‘Every innovation of the Executive was adopted as an article of religious faith.’


The Blair Bill: A Step Toward Nationalized Schools

Jabez Curry and his Peabody Fund had set the first stage for Northern control of Southern education by tying common schools to the carpetbag governments. Then Rutherford B. Hayes, both as President of the United States and a Trustee of Peabody, began the first tentative steps toward a federal take-over.

To develop a concept to do this, Hayes corresponded with an Army colleague, Albion Tourgee.  Tourgee had been a carpetbagger and Justice of the North Carolina Superior Court.  His vicious treatment of Southern whites resulted in him being called ‘Tourgee the Infamous’.  Tourgee was also a best-selling novelist.  ‘Bricks Without Straw’ and ‘A Fools Errand’ were thinly disguised allegories of Radical Republican ideology and educational plans for the South.

Tourgee claimed that the Southern states contained three-quarters of the nation’s illiterates.  45% of the voters could not read their ballots.  Congress should distribute money based on illiteracy.  All schools receiving aid would have to meet Federal regulations.  Washington could supply one-half of the funds.  Tourgee said this would increase the intelligence of voters (to become Republicans) and eliminate state rights sentiment. Tourgee, because of his association with Hayes, drew on the Peabody Fund as a model. Tourgee published a magazine, ‘Our Continent’, promoting Federal aid to education.  ‘All other questions affecting national life dwindle to insignificance.’

When James Garfield was elected President in 1880, after Hayes, one-third of his inaugural address was devoted to education, using Tourgee’s ideas almost word-for-word. The efforts of Hayes, Tourgee and Garfield produced results.  Senator Henry Blair of New Hampshire introduced a similar bill in 1884, ’86, and’88.  Each time it passed the Senate but was blocked by the House.  It called for fifteen million dollars the first year, then each subsequent year, one million less.  After the tenth year, no aid.  Funding was related to illiteracy. Also, for the first three years the states matched one-third of this amount, then equal funding.  It was roughly based on the Peabody Plan.


To provide a glimpse into reconstruction education in Wilmington, this excerpt from the biography of northern educator Amy Bradley provides valuable insights. Bradley was connected with the US Sanitary Commission and the infamous Union League which served as a wedge between Southern blacks and whites. Her depreciating comments about the South and its people are revealing.

The Saintly Carpetbagger, Amy Morris Bradley

(D. C. Cashman, Headstrong, The Biography of Amy Morris Bradley, 1990. Broadfoot Publishing, 1990. pp.159-176)

On the day that President Lincoln died, 15 April 1865, a group of prominent Boston Unitarians published a pamphlet to describe the purpose of their newly formed philanthropic organization, the Soldiers’ Memorial Society.  Edward Everett Hale served as its secretary and Mary Porter Tileston Hemenway [Mrs. Augustus Hemenway] was a member of the executive committee.  The Pamphlet explained:

Our noble soldiers have done great work for the Nation, greater than they all knew.  It seems to us that no more fitting memorial to their memory can be raised than a society in their name, to carry out their work and to make it effective for the renewed prosperity and firmer union of the country now and to come.  We believe that the work of those who have been following the army with their hopes and prayers may now be well consecrated to the duty of uplifting all, white or black, in all States which have been the field of our victories.

It was not surprising that, after Amy’s six week holiday, she decided to offer her services to the group.  Hale heartily endorsed her application noting that she was “one of the most efficient working agents of the Sanitary Commission who has been with the army from the beginning of the war.”  He explained the Society’s organization; it was divided into two committees: Memorial and the Executive.  The Memorial’s aim was to locate “the original letters or journals or notebooks of officers or privates who were engaged in the great war,” so that an eye witness history of the war could be written, while the Executive was to establish schools, hospitals, and asylums in Southern cities.  He noted, “At this moment it is proposing to establish schools in the city of Wilmington, N.C.,” a place that had received a great deal of attention in Sanitary Commission Reports, following the fall of Fort Fisher in January 1865.

Amy’s experience as the Soldiers’ Journal editor made her obvious choice for the Memorial history project.  She was instructed to show Hale’s letter to Mr. Knapp, who was now running the American Unitarian Society, an organization that was working hand and glove with the SMS, and then proceed to Bull Run where she would begin to collect materials.  Hale had also suggested that she extend her itinerary so that she could tour some of the SMS facilities in southern cities and report her findings.  He was particularly anxious for her “voice regarding one or more orphan asylums in Washington.”  It is not known how successful Amy was as a memorials collector or fact finder before the SMS decided her talents could best be used in another capacity.  She was advised that she had been appointed to serve as the official SMS agent in Wilmington.  Since Amy’s reliability and sound judgment had been well established through her tenure as a Sanitary Commission Special Relief Agent, she was given “large liberty” in determining what needs should be met; however, she was asked to submit a monthly report on her progress.  Hale, who had obviously been forewarned as to Amy’s penchant for overexertion, ended his directive with a note of caution, “that for our good quite as much as your own, the preservation of your health should be the first consideration.”

Amy replaced SMS agent the Rev. James Thurston, who had become embittered during his Wilmington tenure.  He had met hostility: the prejudices of this land are marvelous.  The jealousy as marvelous. Their pride as great as their necessity.”  He had also discovered that “for obvious reasons” it was “the poor whites” who needed the most assistance: “They are the most neglected, the blacks have received the chief attention heretofore.”  That “attention” had come through the efforts of the Freedmen’s Bureau, whose top administrator was Amy’s old Colonel Oliver Otis Howard, and the American Missionary Society, a group that began its work in Wilmington on 3 April 1865.

After Christmas 1866, Amy set out from Boston on a railroad journey that would take her south.  It was not as a stranger that she negotiated the transfers in the depots of Boston, New York, Baltimore, Washington, and Richmond, but upon reaching Weldon, Virginia, she turned her back to the familiar and set out on a track that led into an alien region for which she had few guideposts.  The Wilmington & Weldon road had once served as the lifeline to Lee’s proud army of Northern Virginia.  That army had now surrendered, but its cause, leaders and veterans were venerated by the old white establishment who had fallen on hard times.  If Amy had done her homework—and she always did, she would have known that Wilmington, a port on the Cape Fear River, was North Carolina’s most important city, with a population of 18,000.  She probably had learned the tonnage of its naval stories, peanuts, and cotton exports in the pre-war years, but statistics do not give an accounting of a community’s character or charm, and northern history books tend to slight southern achievements.

She arrived in Wilmington before dawn on 30 December 1866.  If she had been superstitious, she might have felt that even the elements were trying to tell her her “mission was doomed,” for “the snow was falling fast, making the prospect cold and cheerless.”  Undaunted by her chilly reception, she got down to work shortly after light.  She presented Hale’s letter of introduction to the Rev. S. S. Ashley, a New Englander who represented the interests of the American Missionary Society, the Freedmen’s Bureau, and who was described to her as “the superintendent of Wilmington Schools.”

Their conference was followed by a tour of Dry Pond, on of the city’ poorest white neighborhoods.  Amy then paid formal calls upon Silas N. Martin, James H. Chadbourn, Edward kidder, and George Zadoc French, men of substance who might be empathetic to her “mission,” because of a shared new England background or identification with republican politics.  This gentleman “though courteous in their reception frankly told her it was impossible for her to succeed.”

Their pessimism sprang from an understanding of Wilmington’s attitudes rather than any personal distaste for Amy or disdain for her proposed school.  Since they held no grudge against northerners they may have discerned what other admirers had seen in her: “an interesting and attractive face,” manners that were “easy, graceful, and winning,” and a character that exuded “executive ability, energy, perseverance, and faculty.”  However, they knew full well that in the emotional aftermath of defeat and devastation of reconstruction, Wilmington’s oldline conservatives would not be so charitable.  Do-gooders from the North were not held in high esteem.  As one put it:

Following the destruction of the Southern states, by armies of the Northern radicals, swarms of the riffraff of northern cities, the dregs of society, poured into the South.  Among them were the females “Missionaries,” as they called themselves, with a  “holier than thou” attitude.  “How much better it is to do it our way,” said those arrogant New England “schoolmarms.”

She soon became a familiar Wilmington figure as she went from house to house to drum up interest in her proposed school.  Even though some women pulled their skirts aside when she passed, or spat upon her, she held her head high and continued her rounds.  On 5 January 1867, Silas N. Martin capitulated to her badgering and gave permission for her to produce the key to the Dry Pond Union Schoolhouse.  Prior to the war, Martin and others had established Union as a free school but it had been abandoned in 1862.  After receiving the key, Amy set up to work to make Union ready, and four days later welcomed three pupils.

After only two months in Wilmington it was obvious that Amy had managed the impossible.  Sixty-two members of the Benevolent Society were meeting from 2 to 5 P.M. three afternoons a week to sew book satchels. The school had as many students as it could hold and there was a long waiting list.  The increasing rolls had grown to such a degree that an additional teacher was required.  Miss Claribel Gerrish from Dover, New Hampshire, reported to work 1 March 1867.  Claribel’s arrival coincided with spring’s; the combination proved exhilarating.  Amy now had someone to talk to, to walk with, and to share the work.  Her upbeat frame of mind was reflected in her report:

The days are balmy and the sunshiny as a May or June day at the North.  I have a day school of seventy-pupils thoroughly organized and classified; and industrial-school of thirty-three, and a Sunday school.  Miss Gerrish is with me, and relieves me much in my day school.  We have received a present from thirty-four gentlemen of this city, of $99.50, which has made it possible to place in the hands of our pupils all needed books, besides purchasing a magnetic globe, and making improvements in our classroom.  Verily our Heavenly father has given His angels charge over me!  Blessed be His name!

The grateful teachers paid to have a card of thanks printed in the 8 March 1867 Wilmington Journal.  On the following day the Dispatch ran a front page article that made it clear that Bradley and company were not welcome in Wilmington:

Equally obnoxious and pernicious is to have Yankee teachers in our midst, forming the minds and shaking the instincts of our youth—alienating them, in fact, from the principals of their fathers, and sewing the seed of their poisonous doctrine upon the unfurrowed soil.

The South has heretofore been free from puritanical schisms and isms of New England, and we regret to see the slightest indication of the establishment here of a foothold by their societies professing the doctrines of Free Loveism, Communism, Universalism, Unitarianism, and all the multiplicity of evil teachings that corrupt society and overthrow religion.

There is no record as to whether Amy and Claribel sat down and had a good laugh or good cry.  Although Amy considered herself a woman of the world, she was probably too naïve to realize why her school merited such an attack.  As a straight-laced, almost puritanical woman, who was descended from American patriots, she would have found the free Lovism and Communist labels too absurd to even contemplate.  However, her background as an active member of the Unitarian-Universalist establishment probably made it impossible for her to understand how a religion that was so well accepted in Boston was such an anathema to Wilmington.  The editorialist’s more accurate charge that she was teaching a doctrine of offensive to her pupils’ forefathers did have merit for Amy never missed an opportunity to promote her political philosophy; however, the Dispatch article did her more help than harm, and in her opinion raised up “warmer friends.”  It also brought the curious to her school who went away marveling at what they had seen.

By mid-summer Amy had all of the finances worked out for the new school system.  Wilmington citizens gave her $1,000 to purchase land for the new building, which would be named Hemenway School, to honor Mary Porter Tileston Hemenway, who donated $1,000.  The Freedmen’s Bureau added $1,804.45 for construction, and the Peabody Fund contributed $1,500 for teacher salaries.  When Amy returned to Wilmington in October 1868, she could boast, “Everything hopeful here. A nice new school house almost finished—Isn’t it grand!  And everybody so glad to see me.”  In early November the old Union opened with 223 pupils and three teachers.  That same month Amy paid Henry Taylor, a black contractor, $1,300, the last payment for the Hemenway School, which she opened to 157 students on 1 December.  On 1 January 1869, Sarah Phelps went down to Masonboro Sound to open the Pioneer School to 45 students.  No wonder Amy thought everything “grand,” in two short years she had grown form a one teacher, three pupil, one room school to a faculty of eight, 435 scholars, and three buildings.

Email: editor@1898wilmington.hypermart.net