1898 Wilmington Race Riot


Consistent Voting Machines:

"They (blacks) never entered into any election," complained a Democrat, "in other than pertisan spirit." As political partisans they were "the most consistent voting machines ever invested with the right of suffrage." They would gladly and readily, it was charged, espouse the cause of "any man who appeals to them for their votes on the sole ground of opposition to the...(Democratic) party."

(Revolt of the Rednecks, Missippippi Politics, 1876-1925, Albert D. Kirwan, page 5)

Negroes in Philadelphia:

"A Philadelphian told Alexis de Tocqueville in 1831 that Negroes could not appear at the polls without being mistreated. "And what becomes of the reign of law in this case?" the French traveler asked. "The law is nothing," the Philadelphia replied, "if it is not supported by public opinion."

Six years later, an English visitor asked why Negroes did not vote in Pennsylvania since no law specifically barred them. "Just let them try!" he was told."

(The Negro in Pennsylvania, Turner; Tocquville and Beaumont in America)


"Black Government Unions"---

Discontent in the Republican Party:

Perennial Republican candidate Daniel L. Russell had written to the State Executive Committee of the Republican Party of North Carolina ...that "the Negroes of the South are largely savages and are no more fit to govern than are their brethren in African swamps or so many Mongolians dumped down from pagan Asia." It was also recalled that Judge Russell while serving on the bench at Southport and prosecuting a black for larceny, had declared that "all Negroes are natural born thieves; they will steal six days in a week and go to church Sundays, pray and shout their sins off and return to the bosom of their race, honored and respected members."

Local blacks denounced Russell and noted that "the bosses of the party here for twenty years or more led the average colored voted around by the nose," with black candidate James A. Lowery stating that "even in their own party (black Republicans) have elected white bosses to the positions, and they have drawn the pay while the Negro was taught by the bosses to hate those with whom they had been raised and lived with all their lives, greatly to their disadvantage."

Lowery declared that "because the Negro had quietly submitted to bossism in the past, it seemed to follow that they are called upon never to resist. In bondage men have some protection, but none in politics. Men had only come here with their carpetbags, knapsacks or whatever you call them, but now they were able to buy out New Hanover County. These men had come here and by the good will, forebearance and votes of the Negro had held on to the offices, until they have come to believe they inherit them. It was against this that the independent (black Republican) movement was organized, and the Independent Republicans were determined to overthrow this bossism."

(Strength Through Struggle, William Reaves, NHC Library, 1998, pp 241-242)

Black Republican Groups Form:

In 1890, there was the organization of the (black) "Young Men's Republican Club" with J. H. Webber as president. In 1895, the citizens of the First Ward formed a club in reaction to Fusionist politics so popular in the State's capital. They called themselves "The Republican Afro League" and promised to fight legislation in Raleigh which would reduce their civil rights to "mere quasi citizenship."

(Wilmington Messenger, July 23, 1890, February 9, 1895, February 16, 1895)

And..."White Supremacy" Republicans:

In April 1895...New Hanover County (Republicans) formed a "White Man's Republican Party," whose objective was to run the Negro out of office and out of local employment. (Wilmington Messenger, April 14, 1895)


The Republican Party View of Black Voters, circa 1880's:

Before a review of how white Wilmingtonians organized a "white government union" prior to the 1898 conflict, it is illuminating to see how white Republican leaders viewed their black supporters. This may reveal to the reader why white Wilmingtonians saw a need to form this organization, and how black citizens who voted against the Republicans were viewed.

In late 1885, future president Warren G. Harding gave this assessment of black Ohio citizens who voted Democratic:

"Now the colored voters have the privilege...of voting for whom and what they please, but just how they can display so much ingratitude as to vote against the true representatives of the party that proved itself their liberator is difficult to understand.; and the colored voter who will vote against the party that proved its savior, if he isn't, ought to be damned."

(The Shadow of Blooming Grove, Warren G. Harding and His Times, Frances Russell, McGraw-Hill, 1968, page 69)

At the 1888 Republican National Convention, Ohio's delegation was headed by political boss Mark Hanna, future president William MaKinley and past Ohio Governor Joseph "Fire Engine Joe" Foraker. To illustrate how Republican carpetbaggers taught black voters how to use the franchise responsibly, and how convention delegates supported candidates, Foraker recalled that:

"a great many colored delegates from the South, as is their custom, had tickets to the convention which they desired to sell. They brought their tickets to our rooms at the hotel, and Mr. Hanna, in the presence of us all, bought them."  

(The Shadow of Blooming Grove, Warren G. Harding and His Times, Frances Russell, McGraw-Hill, 1968, page 123)

This was a prevailing attitude amongst white Republicans in North Carolina as well, as they held the expectation that black voters could be shepherded to the polls to vote for any candidate, no matter how corrupt or racist, the party chose to run for office. As will be seen in reading the pages of this site, black voters were expected to vote the Republican ticket at each election, with their reward being government patronage positions and lower appointments.

White Government Union/Black Government Union?

The existence of a "White Government Union" in Wilmington was the result of a racial polarization which led most, if not all, black citizens into the Republican party. As shown elsewhere on this site, the Republican Party Executive Committee in Wilmington consisted of 14 black and 1 white members; and Republican Governor Daniel Russell decried the all-black characteristics of the circa-1898 Republican party in Wilmington. Remember too that any black voter who showed any leaning or preference for Conservative politics was either shunned by other blacks or threatened with bodily harm.

While the Conservative white citizens had a "White Government Union," led by the most recognizable names in Wilmington, a practical "Black Government Union" existed in the form of the Republican party and it was led by many prominent names as well.

The Constitution and By-Laws of the "White Government Union" follows and is a statement reflecting the political climate of the day created by the fusion of the Republican and Populist parties, and as a historical document should be interpreted in that light. The site will be incorporating similar documents regarding the racial and political organization of the Republican party in Wilmingtton in order to present an objective view of both sides of the conflict.

                                                  Constitution and By-Laws

of the

White Government Union



Our State is the only community in the world, with a majority of white voters, where the officers selected to administer the Government are the choice of Negroes, and not of the whites.

This condition has been brought about by an unfortunate division among the white people; and it is likely to continue until the division is removed, and unity again prevails among them as it did prior to 1892.

The necessity for a closer union of the white people of the State is so apparent that it requires no argument, and that necessity has called forth the organization of THE WHITE GOVERNMENT UNION.





The name of the organization shall be The White Government Union.


The purpose of the organization shall be to re-establish in North Carolina the SUPREMACY of the WHITE RACE; to promote individual effort in behalf of the party and its candidates on the part of the voters, and to bring the head of the organization in the counties and State more closely and easily in touch with the Township Organizations, and the individual party voter.


Neither Oaths, Grips, Signs, nor Passwords shall be allowed.

Any Union may, if it so desires, adopt a badge, button, insignia, or uniform.


The organization shall be divided into County Unions and Township Unions.


Every WHITE MAN who desires WHITE GOVERNMENT in North Carolina, and is willing to use every practicable and honorable means to restore WHITE SUPREMACY therein, and who proposes to support candidates pledged to effect that purpose, in the ensuing election, shall be eligible to membership of the Township Union.


The County Union shall be composed exclusively of the chairman of the several Township Unions, and the Chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee of the county, who shall preside over its meetings.


Each Township Union shall elect a President, Vice-President, and such other officers as may be deemed proper, and the President of each Township Union shall be, ex officio, a member of the County Union.


The Unions will meet at least once a month, but the work shall be constant, and each member of the Township Union will be advised by the President of his Union as to work expected of him, and he will report, from time to time, personally to the President as to the progress he is making.


The Township Unions will be purely working bodies, and their work will be:

  1. To organize, register and bring out the party vote in the township.
  2. To ascertain and report to the State and County Chairmen the doubtful and floating votes for the party, by sending literature, public speakers, etc.
  3. To arrange and organize, for effective party work, at the polls on the day of election.
  4. To foster and stimulate individual work on the part of the members of the Union in securing a full registration, in wining doubtful and floating voters, and in persuading those white men, who have been alienated from the Democratic party, of their duty to their race, themselves, and their families.


The object of the County Union is-

  1. To secure concert of action between the several Township Unions in the county.
  2. For the purpose of discussing with the Chairman of the County Executive Committee and determining questions relating to matters of organization and party work.
  3. Arranging for speakings in different parts of the county, and providing attractions and means for securing large attendance at such meetings.
  4. For the purpose of receiving fro the County Chairman such literature as he may have for distribution among members of their respective Unions.
  5. For receiving instructions concerning any plan of campaign that the State of County Chairman may desire to put in operation through the Unions in the county, and to agree upon a program to secure concert of the action in inaugurating such work or plan of campaign.

                                                                    ARTICLE XI.

Each Union shall be permitted, if it sees fit to do so, to admit as members women and boys under twenty-one years old, but such members shall not be entitled to a vote.


In addition to the individual work, before provided for, it shall be the duty of the members of these Unions to promote, in every honorable and legitimate way, the success of the Democratic Party, and the success of its candidates, by assisting in the advertisement of Democratic meetings, and in securing the attendance at these meetings of as large crowds as possible; in distributing Democratic literature; in registering Democratic voters, and in ascertaining and reporting the names of all doubtful voters.


It shall be the duty of the voting members of the Union to attend at the polls on election day, and, if practicable for them to do so, to give their whole time, on election day, to the service of the Party.


The Unions, in their organized capacity, shall not seek to influence the nominations of candidates, nor to influence conventions. Their work will be confined to building up and promoting the interests of the Party generally, and the election of candidates, after the same have been regularly nominated, and inculcating among the people the necessity of restoring white supremacy, as the only hope for the preservation of our civilization.


Each Union shall have the power to adopt all such by-laws and regulations as it shall find convenient or necessary, and it shall appoint such committees and elect such additional officers as it sees fit.


The following By-Laws are suggested:

Each Union shall organize by electing, by ballot, the officers provided for in the Constitution, and such others as they may see fit.

The President, unless it should be decided otherwise shall appoint all Committees which may be raised by any Union.

The President shall preside at all meetings, and in his absence, the Vice-President shall preside.

The President shall assign to each member such campaign work as it expected of that member to perform.  This may or may not be done at the meetings of the Union.  (It is perhaps more practicable for it to be done at other times.)  The member, after having his individual work assigned to him by the President, shall report to the President from time to time, but to no one else, regarding the progress which he is making.

If it shall be decide to have but one meeting each month of the Township Unions, such meeting shall be held on the last Saturday of the month, and the corresponding meetings of the County Union shall be held on the preceding Thursday.

If it shall be determined to have bi-monthly meetings of the Township Unions, they shall be held on the third and last Saturdays in each month, and the meetings of the County Unions shall be held on the preceding Thursdays.

The Chairman of the Township Union may, in his discretion, cause to be organized sub-Unions in the several voting precincts in his township.  The chief officer of each such Union shall report to and receive directions from the Chairman of the Township Union, in same manner as the Township Chairman reports to and receives directions, under this plan, from the County Chairman.

There shall be appointed by the Township Unions the following Committees, each to contain at least five members: except the Committee on Challenges and Polls, which shall contain ten members.

At every meeting of the Union every member of the Union shall hand to the President a list of persons to whom in his opinion literature should be sent, or whom he may regard as a doubtful voter, and the President shall furnish the County Chairman with a list of such names, and post-office address; and the County Chairman will forward the same to State Chairman.

There shall be a meeting of all the Unions in the county on Thursday before the election, for the purpose of discussing questions concerning the organization, general work, and status of the Party and hearing addresses from local and outside speakers.


              The Chairman of the State Committee will send, immediately, into a number of the Congressional Districts, District Organizers, who will go into each county and organize one or more Unions, and leave with the County Chairman the necessary blanks, Constitution, By-Laws, etc.  The County Chairman will become County Organizer, and he is expected to press the work, and to fully organize his county during the month of August.

If it shall be decided to organize sub-Unions in any township, they shall be numbered and known as Sub-Unions, according to their numerical number.

The unions will be working bodies, not dress parade organizations.  Important work will be assigned to each member.

Thus work will be such as he can perform without loss of time from his own business.  It will be only work as he can do, and no work will be assigned to any member to which he objects, and no work will be assigned to any member which is not honorable, legitimate and proper.

The Democratic Party will appeal to the honor, character and highest aspirations of the people, and it will condemn any except honorable methods of campaigning.

The State Committee believes that a man can render the Party better service by being a member than by remaining outside.  But no man’s Democracy of fealty shall be brought into question because he does not join.  The property of joining is left to each person.

The State Committee has a definite plan of campaign which it will put into effect this year, and these Unions will be a powerful ally, because for the first time definite, well-considered work will be assigned to each man.

More to come.




Email: editor@1898wilmington.hypermart.net