1898 Wilmington Race Riot

Fusionists in North Carolina:

(See also the "Postwar North Carolina Political History" page)

The Freedmen's Vote Crucial To The Republicans:

Ulysses S. Grant was elected to the presidency in 1868, and few remember that a majority of white Americans voted against him; only by adding the 450,000 Negro votes to the white Republican (vote) was the Republican majority obtained. The election showed how essential it was that the Negro vote be secured permanently for the Republican party and that the right of the Negro to vote in the North be embedded in the Federal Constitution.

Fusionists Alter Wilmington City Charter in 1897:

It is often heard that Wilmington's Board of Aldermen in November, 1898 were were freely-elected to their positions, and this is only partially true. As will be seen below, only 5 of the 10 Aldermen were elected by the election wards in thr city, with the Republican governor having the power to appoint the other five. And the mayor was selected by the Aldermen.

"When the (North Carolina) legislature convened in January, 1897, the Fusionists (Republicans/Populists) found themselves in complete control of the three branches of State government, and with overwhelming majorities in both houses of the legislature. The Fusionist program included refining the 1895 election law, increasing educational appropriations, curbing the influence of railroads in State politics, and altering municipal charters.

The Fusionists...turned their attention to municipal governments in the State, giving special attention to Wilmington, the State's largest city and with a population over 50% black.

Although the election results indicated that the Republicans were in the majority in Wilmington, the ward boundaries as established by the Democratic legislatures made it impossible for the Republicans to gain control of an elected Board of Aldermen. Moreover, since most of the Republicans in Wilmington were blacks, the Fusionist legislature wanted to avoid providing the Democrats with any campaign issue revolving around black rule in the city. Any revision of the ward boundaries involving the dividing the large first and fifth wards would probably result in black Republicans controlling the Board of Aldermen. Therefore, the Fusionists decided to amend Wilmington's charter so as to establish a partly elected and partly appointed Board of Aldermen.

(Republican Governor Russell) promised (in his inaugural address) "There should be no attempt to avoid the necessity of protecting the tax-payers of these municipalities against the danger of misrule by th propertyless and ignorant elements." In (Governor) Russell's opinion...giving the governor the authority to appoint Wilmington aldermen would serve as a defense against black rule and extravagance.

While the charter revision did not alter the ward lines, it provided that "the qualified voters of each ward" would elect only one alderman, and it empowered the governor to appoint one alderman from each of the city's five wards."

(Politics in Wilmington and New Hanover County, North Carolina, 1865-1900, Jerome McDuffie, 1979, pp. 458-461)


The Black Move To Populism in Kansas:

In order to understand the effect of the black vote in 1898 Wilmington, and its part in creating a "white supremacy" movement amid claims of "Negro domination," consider the following extract from "The Negro and Populism."

"We're working for recognition and principle, said the (black-owned) Parsons (Kansas) Blade, "but if one party won't recognize us another will." Taken in its worst light, such a modus operandi made the Negro a political Judas. "We must cast our lot with those who are most likely to win with our strength attached to theirs, " reasoned the Parsons Blade, "and who give us a reasonably fair amount of recognition (patronage)."

Jeter C. Prittchard

In fact, the Negro penchant for split-ticket voting alienated the major parties by establishing that the Negro cared more for race loyalty and selfish advantage than for party loyalty and party advantage. As a consequence, Negroes in Kansas by 1896 were isolated completely from political power and influence. What had been a time of political attention and recognition was over, whether because of prejudice, the arithmetic of the census, or both. "For the last 14 or 15 years, we have been great in politics," said the Weekly Call, "and today we are like the jug handle, on the outside."  (The Negro and Populism, William H. Chafe, Journal of Southern History, August, 1968)

Note: This entire article can be found at the end of this page.

Ensuring the Black Republican Vote:

"Mr. Iredell Meares made a fine and telling speech for silver on the 29th. We all want to hear him.  Great anxiety is felt for the issue. May God direct the right.

It is a strong fight to put down these giant "trusts" and combines which are sapping the very life of the spelndid country.

Never has there been such interest, and never so large a (voter) registration; and never such bare-faced rascality by the Republicans as now. Thousands of Negroes have been imported from South Carolina into this State to vote. Eight hundred were challenged in Wilmington in one day, but that vile legislature, made up of rascals and Negroes, passed a law managed through by D.L. Russell, one of the most unprincipled vile creatures, that the challenger must prove his assertion.

How is he going into South Carolina and get proof that these Negroes, many of them are convicts, and none residents of this State. God help us if the Negroes get control; but they never will while a Southern white man lives to help prevent it. Russell is a white man, with an extremely black heart and conscience. May he never succeed to a single office in this State; is now on the Republican ticket for governor."

(Diary of Margaret Coit Curtis, October, 1896, wife of Dr. Walter G. Curtis of Southport, North Carolina.)

"Democrats Would Re-Enslave The Freedmen":

There was the fear that the Negroes would weaken in their Republicanism...party leaders began begging the national headquarters for torches to light up processions and political meetings, copies of "Marching Through Georgia" to be sung, fewer campaign documents, which Negroes could not read, and more money to buy horses for Negro preachers to ride in their work of distributing ballots and winning votes.  The Republicans sent flocks of Howard University students into the South to make speeches, and the government applied an extra $200,000. to the campaign in North Carolina through and increase in Federal marshalls to step up enforcement of the Ku Klux Act.

By making the Republican party in the South largely Negro, the color-line was drawn in politics and thus powerful racial prejudice was brought into play to the advantage of the Democrats. The white Republicans, unless held to the party by office or material considerations, soon deserted.

Radical leaders used every device imaginable to hold Negro support. They warned that the Democrats if returned to power would re-enslave the freedmen; that they would re-establish the Confederacy and make Davis president again; that Negro women would not be allowed to wear veils and hoop skirts. Using another approach, they said (President) Grant demanded that they vote the Republican ticket, and in South Carolina freedmen were told that the Negro militia would shoot them if they voted for Democratic candidates. Negroes voting Democratic were called "renegade darkies."

The Negro who was too cunning to be tricked could generally by bought. Many Negroes sold their votes for a quarter or a half-dollar. A correspondent of the New York Herald declared that they were "ready and willing to vote for the Emperor of China or the King of the Cannibal Islands, if required, for the samll sum of 25 cents per head." Many Negroes were bought with a few drinks of whiskey or a handful of cigars. As some Negro leaders had great power over their followers, the simplest procedure was to buy the leader.

Sympathetic Southerners firmly declared that good Negro workmen were ruined by their churchgoing. "Instead of assembling there together and holding services for a reasonable length of time, they frequently prolong them all night, disturbing every body in the neighborhood, and hatching up enough devilment to run a small size hot country." Some Negro preachers were of a degenerate and viscious character, who after their services might engage with the worst part of their congregation in carousals. A Northerner declared they were "infinitely worse than no preachers." They had great influence over their congregations and were uniformly Republican political leaders. A Floridian said in 1868: "The colored preachers are the great power in controlling and uniting the colored vote, and they are looked to, as political leaders, with more confidence and sincerity than any other source of instruction and control."

(The South During Reconstruction, E. Merton Coulter)


 The Run-Up To November 1898 In Wilmington:

It is important to understand that the racial conflict in Wilmington in 1898 was the result of continuous political intrigue since the State regained "home rule" in the early 1870's.

The spark that ignited the fuse for 1898 can be found in the Fusionist legislature of 1895 as the Republicans and Populists worked to eliminate Democrats from Wilmington's, and North Carolina politics. From Hamilton's "Reconstruction in North Carolina" we find this revealing statement regarding the effect of imported political corruption, and the freedmen's support of the carpetbagger:

"From the presence of the Negro in politics grew one of the greatest evils for which reconstruction was responsible, namely, the inevitable blunting of the political moral sense of the white people. North Carolina, unprogressive as it was, had always a highly developed political sense and an equally high standard of political morality. The greatest shock of reconstruction was the revelation of the depths to which politics could sink. When the ideals of the community were shattered, when an ignorant, inferior and lately enslaved race controlled by selfish and corrupt aliens, held the balance of power and by combination with a small minority of native whites administered the government, then the practical necessities of the case overcame scrupulous notions of political morality, and a determination to rule by any methods possible possessed the mass of the white people and held them during the three following decades."
(Reconstruction in North Carolina, page 422.)

Fusion Cartoon of 1900

The Revolt of the Farmers: The Populist Party
(From "North Carolina History Told By Contemporaries," edited by Hugh Talmadge Lefler, UNC Press, 1965. pp. 372-393)

Agriculture was North Carolina's basic industry during the 19th century. It had been stimulated during the civil war, particularly in the production of foodstuffs. From 1865 to the close of the century, it fell on evil days.
During the dark years of Reconstruction the North Carolina farmer faced many handicaps. Much of his property had been destroyed or had gone to ruin. His livestock had been killed or carried away; his money had become worthless, banking facilities had almost disappeared, and transportation facilities had broken down. The slave had been freed thereby wiping out a $250,000,000. investment in the State, and also introducing a new economic relationship between landowner and laborer. For three years after the war the federal cotton tax, amounting to from $10. to $15. a bale, extracted several millions of dollars from the State---money which was sorely needed for economic rehabilitation.

Few farmers were in more critical condition than those of North Carolina farmers from 1865 to 1900. The situation was acute in the seventies, it became extremely serious in the eighties and early nineties. The farmer was "gradually but steadily becoming poorer and poorer every year." He lacked an adequate reserve to tide him over a lean year, of which there were many. Prices of things he sold were too low and getting lower, prices of things he bought were too high and in many instances, getting higher…(and) Like other Southern farmers, he did business on a credit basis.
The farmers believed that there were many factors contributing to their distress. They blamed the credit system with its excessive rates of interest; they complained of the evil practices of railways, particularly of high and discriminatory freight rates, and the lack of governmental regulation. They insisted that our tariff policy was building up industry at the expense of agriculture.

It was natural for the farmers to revolt against this situation. From the early seventies on, the "embattled farmers" showed a tendency to organize for redress of their grievances. There were three phases of this "agrarian crusade": 1., the Grange; 2. the Farmers Alliance; and 3., the Populist movement. The (State) legislature chosen in 1888 had a larger proportion of farmers than any other since the civil war, and an (Farmers) Alliance leader was selected Speaker of the House. The People's party, or the Populist party as it is usually called, was a direct outgrowth of the Farmers Alliance. By 1892, this organization had abandoned all hope of reform through either of the old parties, and the radical wing of the Alliance was demanding separate political action. Colonel L.L. Polk definitely committed the North Carolina Alliance to the third party movement; the more conservative element, led by Elias Carr, remained within the Democratic party.

The Democratic press endeavored "to make Populism odious" in the State, and Polk was their target. He died in 1892, and Marion Butler succeeded him as leader of the new political party. The first Populist State convention was held in August, 1892 with 72 counties represented by 495 delegates. W.P. Exum was nominated for governor, after Harry Skinner had declined the nomination. The platform adopted called for rigid economy in government; encouragement of education, agriculture and manufacturing; a 6% interest law, secret ballot, "purity" of elections, taxation of all railroads, and a ten-hour day in certain industries.

The Populist vote for president in the State was 44,723, the Democratic vote 132,951, and the Republican vote 100,746. The Populists captured three seats in each House of the legislature, and for a new party, it had made a good showing.

Populist-Republican Fusion:
So eager were the Populists to overthrow the Democratic party in North Carolina that they fused with the Republican party, which was stronger in North Carolina than in almost any other Southern State. The Fusion ticket was very successful in 1894, electing the entire State ticket, six of seven Superior Court judges, four Populist and three Republican congressmen, and a majority in both Houses of the legislature. Marion Butler, a picturesque Populist from Sampson county was chosen United States Senator. Although (William Jennings) Bryan carried North Carolina by 20,000 majority in 1896, the "Fusionist" State ticket received a plurality of about 8,000 and Daniel L. Russell was elected governor. The Populist-Republican organization now controlled all three branches of the State government.

Black Populists in Kansas:
The Populist party in Kansas, as an example, also attracted much black support. Patronage was the key to Negro political behavior, and like a barometer it served to measure the black man's status in the eyes of the white community. If Negroes were given a large share of public jobs, it meant they were safe. If, on the other hand, their jobs were taken away from them and given to members of another racial or ethnic group, it meant they were vulnerable---no longer important enough to receive the symbolic recognition and protection conferred on a group by the appointment of a representative person to a public office. "Our friends prove their friendship by giving us employment…, said the Topeka, Kansas Weekly Call."


Russell Advised By Black Fusionist Young

The Mid-Nineties:
(From "Politics In Wilmington and North Carolina, 1865-1898,"
Jerome A. McDuffie, Doctoral dissertation, Kent State University, 1979.
UMI Dissertation Services)

During the legislative campaign in 1894, the Fusionists had loudly denounced the Democratic Redeemers for impairing local self-government. Thus, the Fusionist legislators in the 1895 General Assembly dismantled the county government system that the Democrats had erected and replaced it with a system, centered around the popular election of three county commissioners. This ensured that the rejuvenated Republican party with its Populist allies would be able to gain complete control of New Hanover county's government in the 1896 elections. In the upcoming county elections, not only would the voters be electing the local courthouse officials and State lawmakers, but for the first time since the 1877 county government act, the voters would also elect at least three county commissioners and the justice of the peace.

The presence of a Fusionist majority in the 1895 General Assembly also jeopardized Democratic ascendancy in Wilmington. The Democratic Redeemers had fashioned a double lock---the Board of Audit and Finance and gerrymandered wards---to insure continued Democratic domination of Wilmington's municipal affairs; but the Redeemer program depended upon continued control of the legislature by the Democrats. With the advent of Fusionism in North Carolina, Wilmington's municipal government became the center of a raging and heated controversy.

The leaders of Wilmington's Republican party wanted to secure the absolute control of the dispensation of municipal patronage and replace Democrats with either Republicans or Populists. The first priority of the Republican party in Wilmington, therefore, was to gain control of the city's patronage.

The Police Board:
It was no surprise to the splintered Democrats when four of Wilmington's leading Republicans proposed amending Wilmington's (city) charter. Their proposal was to remove the distribution of patronage from the Board of Aldermen and substitute a Police Board of five qualified electors, appointed by the General Assembly. This Board would appoint the Police and Fire Chiefs, the City Clerk, Treasurer, Attorney, Physician, Harbor Master, Policemen, and all service workers. The proposal further stated that "the Mayor and Board of Aldermen shall have no right to remove any one appointed or employed by the Police Board.

When the four Republicans completed their handiwork, they gave two of their number, Frederick B. Rice and George Z. French the responsibility of guiding it through the General Assembly since both men were members of that body.
When Rice's bill came before the House in early March, 1895, his colleague French, the House sponsor of the bill offered several important amendments. Rather than leaving the election of the Police Board to the General Assembly, French inserted the names of five of its members in the bill. French proposed the names of three white Republicans, William H. Chadbourn, Frederick B. Rice, and Silas P. Wright; one Populist, John R. Melton; and one black Republican, John E. Taylor.

It was not by chance that Chadbourn and Rice were named to the Police Board. The presence of these tow men on the Board put the Democrats and Republicans on notice that the four men who were responsible for the bill intended to play active, and not passive roles in Wilmington's affairs. On March 9, 1895, less than four weeks after Rice had introduced the bill, the General Assembly ratified the amended bill making it law. Ignoring their commitment to local self-government, the Fusionists rendered ineffectual the Board of Aldermen and the Board of Audit and Finance. Thus, the Fusionists effectively destroyed the double-lock constructed by the Democrats, and they began thinking of erecting legislative barriers to prevent the return of the Democrats to power in Wilmington.

Although the members of the Police Board served without compensation, they were not above using their position for personal gain and to tighten their grip on Wilmington's government. At the first meeting of the Board in March, 1895, State Senator Rice profited from his handiwork. In a carefully orchestrated scenario, Rice and Melton resigned from the Police Board. The reasons for their resignations became immediately apparent when the Board elected Rice to succeed a Democrat as City Clerk and Treasurer, and Melton to replace a Democrat as Chief of Police. These two offices were the two highest paying patronage positions in the municipal government. The Board also proceeded to remove most of the appointees of the Democratic Board of Aldermen. The Board had approximately 50 positions to fill and 34 of these were in the Police Department.

Black Discontent With Republican Patronage:
Although the manner in which the Police Board distributed patronage please Mayor Fishblate and other Democrats, it failed to satisfy many of Wilmington's black Republicans. Fred W. Mills, a black laborer voiced the discontent of these blacks. While Mills did not believe blacks should hold the principal offices in municipal government, he did contend that one-half of the privates in the Police Department and one-half of the laborers on the street force should be black. Mills criticized the Police Board and suggested that its purpose was 'to establish a white man's Republican party by relegating the Negro from positions of honor and material benefit."
(McDuffie, pp. 416-422)

The Fusion legislation of 1895 had engineered a virtual revolution in North Carolina politics. As the State's 1896 gubernatorial election approached, there was hope for permanently ending the Democratic hegemony through the election of Daniel Russell, as a Fusionist governor.

Gov. Daniel Russell

The Populists, who distrusted the large black element of the Republican party, decided to cooperate with the Republicans in order to "defeat the arrogant and hypocritical Democracy, and at the same time secure, by such cooperation, a balance of power in he legislature that would effectively check any wild or reckless plan that might be advocated by the Republican party." Hal W. Ayer, chairman of the North Carolina Populist party explained the reasons for cooperating to Populist county chairmen. He wrote: "If the Democrats should win, they would rule the State with an arrogance and brutality that would make life uncomfortable for any who dared oppose them in this State." Ayer also pointed out: "If the Republicans should win, independently, they would be urged and almost forced, by the large irresponsible element which constitutes the great body of the party into some of the recklessness of 1868; and this is something as much to be feared as Democratic rule.

When it became obvious that Russell was leading the Democrats (in the 1896 gubernatorial election) launched a virulently racist campaign against Russell and the Republicans. In addressing black audiences, Democratic speakers stressed that Russell had called blacks "savages." To white audiences, Democratic orators pointed out the danger of a return to black rule if "Russellism" triumphed. They urged whites to unite against him.

Russell Campaigns In Two Cities

(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)

These (North Carolina Democratic) newspapers revived the specter of Reconstruction and constantly asserted a Russell victory would mean black Republican domination in the eastern counties. Other Democratic newspapers throughout the State picked up the refrain and reprinted articles from the two (Messenger & Morning Star) Wilmington papers. These two journals publicized the black officeholding in New Hanover county, especially the fact that the Fusionist legislature had appointed black magistrates and that the Police Board had named blacks to the police force.

On election day in November (1896)…Russell received 46.5% of the total to Watson's 43.9%. The Populist, William Guthrie received only 9.4%. A whopping 87% of eligible blacks voted. An estimated 59% voted for Russell, 20% cast Democratic ballots, and 8% opted for the Populists.

Given the narrow range of options open to black voters in 1896, a vote for Fusion represented a pragmatic attempt to protect black interests. Russell had followed a strange path during the campaign, and he illustrated the ambivalence of Southern white Republicans caught in the dilemma of needing black votes to win. Although Republicans believed in equality before the law for all races, they resented black officeholding and activity in Republican party affairs. In the end, Republican organizational efforts, Democratic demagoguery and the popularity of Fusion reforms, more than Russell's reputation probably secured traditional black votes for the Republican party.
(McDuffie, pp. 428-453)

Continued Fusionist Reforms:
When the legislature convened in January, 1897, the Fusionists found themselves in complete control of the three branches of State government and with overwhelming majorities in both houses of the legislature. The Fusionist program included refining the 1895 election law, increasing educational appropriations, curbing the influence of railroads in State politics, and altering municipal charters. …The Fusionists---in the midst of a depression---substantially increased State appropriations for public schools and provided incentives for local school districts to raise their taxes…and intensified the taxation of railroads and businesses. The election law of 1895 had encountered Democratic opposition. While the Fusionists argued that the law was fair, the Democrats held that it fostered corruption by imposing the franchise upon blacks who were not constitutionally qualified to exercise it.
(McDuffie, page 458)

The Wilmington Charter Revision:
The Fusionists…turned their attention to municipal governments in the State, giving special attention to Wilmington, the State's largest city and with a population over 50% black. The creation of the Police Board and its policies had brought a great deal of criticism, and the Fusionists realized that any tampering with the….structure of municipal government would generate vehement opposition. Although the election results indicated that the Republicans were in the majority in Wilmington, the ward boundaries as established by the Democratic legislatures made it impossible for the Republicans to gain control of an elected Board of Aldermen.

Moreover, since most of the Republicans in Wilmington were black, the Fusionist legislature wanted to avoid providing the Democrats with any campaign issue revolving around black rule in that city. Any revision of the ward boundaries involving dividing the large First and Fifth Wards would probably result in black Republicans controlling the Board of Aldermen. Therefore, the Fusionists decided to amend Wilmington's charter so as to establish a partly elected and a partly appointed Board of Aldermen.

This decision followed the position expressed by Governor Russell in his inaugural address. He promised: "There should be no attempt to avoid the necessity of protecting the taxpayers of these municipalities against the danger of misrule by the property-less and ignorant elements." In Russell's opinion, therefore, giving the Governor the authority to appoint Wilmington's aldermen would serve as a defense against black rule and extravagance.

Although the Wilmington charter revision encountered opposition in the legislature, it was ratified in early March. Many legislators voted for the revision in the belief that the bill "protected the property from the vagrant and non-property holding class," and that it was "better to support this bill than to risk a bill which gave control of the city to the property-less class."

While the charter revision did not alter the ward lines, it provided that "the qualified voters of each ward" would elect only one alderman, and it empowered the governor to appoint one alderman from each of the city's five wards. The fact that as governor he would be appointing five members of the board gave Russell another device to prevent "misrule by the property-less and ignorant elements."
(McDuffie, pp. 459-461)

The Decay of Fusionism:
During the 1897 legislative session fissures in the Fusionist alliance became apparent. There was bickering over the election of the United States Senator, Republican Jeter C. Pritchard. Populists and Republicans both sought to lead the Fusion movement. The Republicans had won the governorship, and thus the Populists were determined to name their own senatorial candidate. Pritchard's election shook Fusionism to its foundation.

When the General Assembly of 1897 adjourned in March, Fusionism was in shambles. The fight over the senator-ship, the free silver issue and Russell's persistent attack on the 99-year lease of the North Carolina Railroad to the Southern Railway had ruptured the Republican-Populist alliance and had made Russell a governor without a party.
Russell's obvious estrangement from the Republican party brought forth denunciations from Republicans and warnings that cooperation with Populists could not be countenanced in the future.
(McDuffie, pp.464-467)

(From "North Carolina History Told By Contemporaries," edited by Hugh Talmadge Lefler, UNC Press, 1965. pp. 394)
The sudden loss of Populist power may be attributed to three causes:
One, the Negro question had come to be associated with the Populist-Republican administration; two, the Populists probably erred in "fusing" with the Republicans instead of maintaining a separate existence; and three, Populism had run its course. Many of the farmers' grievances had been settled, and the Democratic party was beginning to take cognizance of the agrarian troubles.

Patronage in Wilmington:
(From "Politics In Wilmington and North Carolina, 1865-1898,"
Jerome A. McDuffie, Doctoral dissertation, Kent State University, 1979.
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While Fusionism was disintegrating on the State level, the Republicans and Populists in Wilmington also faced problems. Control of patronage served to intensify Republican factionalism an to drive the wedges of separation between the Populists and Republicans in New Hanover county. While Russell's election had given him control of much of the State patronage, McKinley's triumph meant that the State's Republican Senator, Jeter C. Pritchard, would play a major role in the dispensation of federal patronage in North Carolina. McKinley's election also meant that in Wilmington, Republicans would eventually replace Democrats holding the city positions of Postmaster and Collector of Customs, in addition to numerous minor federal posts.

Because of Senatorial courtesy, Governor Russell had to channel his nominations through Jeter C. Pritchard, North Carolina's sole Republican Senator. Thus, Pritchard had the major role in nominating candidates to McKinley for federal patronage positions in North Carolina. This put Russell at a distinct disadvantage, because by the last part of 1897, Pritchard was anti-Russell. Nevertheless, this did not deter Russell in his efforts to have his supporters named Postmaster and Collector of Customs.

Russell wanted his close friend and political supporter George Z. French appointed Postmaster. French, a loyal Russell Republican, had known Russell for over 30 years and had supported Russell's gubernatorial ambitions. When French had expressed the desire to run for Sheriff of New Hanover county in 1896, Russell had persuaded him against the move. He needed French's help in securing the Republican gubernatorial nomination and in the campaign. French had been active in New Hanover county Republican politics and had represented the county in the State House of Representatives in 1868, 1870 and 1895. Moreover, from 1889 to 1893 he had served as Wilmington's Postmaster.

While Russell supported French for Postmaster, Republican county leader Frederick B. Rice endorsed John E. Albright, a white Republican.

Nevertheless, as early a January, 1897, Pritchard indicated his support of Albright. Since Rice was willing to trade his support for Albright in return for Rice's support in the senatorial contest. While most of the controversy centered around the position of Postmaster, three Republicans---two blacks, John T. Howe and John C. Dancy, and one white, William H. Chadbourn---were contending for the appointment as Collector of Customs. John C. Dancy had served as Collector from 1891 to 1894. Since Dancy had supported Oliver Dockery for the gubernatorial nomination in the 1896 Republican convention, he had the support of many anti-Russell Republicans, but most of the anti-Russell Republicans in New Hanover county supported John T. Howe for Collector. Chadbourn was a dark horse and was considered an unlikely candidate for the position.

After McKinley took office, the contests intensified and late in 1897, several rival delegations traveled to Washington to support their candidates. One anti-Russell delegation included two blacks and two whites. One of the blacks, Alexander L. Manly, was the editor of the black Republican newspaper, the Daily Record. After negotiations, the supporters of Albright and Chadbourn reached an agreement to make Chadbourn Postmaster and Albright Assistant Postmaster. On January 5, 1898, more than one year after the maneuvering and intrigue began, Rice wired French: "Chadbourn will be Postmaster. Arrangements entirely satisfactory to all." Although Albright had not been appointed, Rice gained sweet revenge by defeating French, Russell's candidate.

Although political prognosticators in New Hanover county expected Dancy to receive the appointment as Collector of Customs, he too had opponents. But they failed to prevent the appointment and on February 28, 1898, Dancy took the oath of office. His appointment further weakened Russell in New Hanover county. The fact that Dancy, a black Republican, occupied the important position of Collector of Customs made him the natural leader of Wilmington's black Republicans, and this drew them away from their dependence on Russell's leadership. The appointment of Rice, Russell's bitter antagonist as a Deputy Collector of Customs further undermined Russell's strength in New Hanover county. (McDuffie, pp. 469-475)

The Fusionist county government act of 1895 had enabled the Republicans and Populists to gain control of the elective Board of County Commissioners, but the election of Russell to the office of governor provided the foundation for the Republicans to secure control of Wilmington's municipal government through appointments…the amendments to Wilmington's charter by the 1897 Fusionist legislature empowered the governor to appoint five of the city's ten aldermen. Thus, Russell appointed the five members of the Board of Audit and Finance, and five aldermen in March, 1897.
(McDuffie, page 487)

The Contested 1897 Wilmington Election:
Democrats protested that the Fusionist amendments to Wilmington's charter in 1897 were unconstitutional and undemocratic. The Chairman of the New Hanover County Democratic Executive Committee, Hector McLean Green laid the groundwork for a legal appeal against the charter; and he advised the Democrats to run 2 candidates for alderman in each ward.

If the State Supreme Court should declare the 1897 amendments invalid and non-operative, the Democratic action in the five wards would be important as it would mean that the city would have ten elected aldermen, 8 Democrats and 2 Republicans. The certificate of election from the Third Ward reflected this strategy. It declared that "if the law requires two Aldermen to be elected, we declare Owen Fennell and Washington Catlett duly elected Aldermen from the Third Ward---if the law requires one Alderman only to be voted for, we declare Owen Fennell alone to be elected.
While Green's strategy rested upon the Supreme Court declaring Wilmington's amended charter unconstitutional and ruling the election valid, William N. Harriss, the Mayor and the seven Democrats on the Board decided to follow a different course of action. ON the advice of a Democratic lawyer, the Mayor and Aldermen refused to surrender their offices on election day in March 1897, until the State Supreme Court handed down a decision on the constitutionality of the amendments.

The new Board was to meet and organize on March 26th at noon, but when the Republicans heard that the old Board, the Harriss Board, planned to meet at 10:00AM and prevent the new (Russell) Board from meeting, it was decided to change the time of the new (Russell) Board's meeting to 9:00AM. The three elected Democrats were present at City Hall shortly before the meeting time waiting to be sworn in and to participate in he new Board's organization; but a few minutes before the swearing in of the new aldermen the dissident Democrats marched up, each led one of the Democratic aldermen out onto the street and pleaded with him not to qualify. The emotional pleas persuaded the three Democratic aldermen to leave the meeting.

Despite the withdrawal of the three regular Democrats, the five aldermen appointed by Russell met at 9:00AM with Andrew J. Walker and Elijah M. Green, (Republican) elected aldermen from the First and Fifth Ward's respectively. These seven aldermen took the oath of office prescribed by law and then organized. They chose (Silas P.) Wright as mayor and then elected H. Coleman Twining, a white Republican, to fill the vacancy created by Wright's resignation as alderman.

Shortly after the adjournment of the Wright Board, Harriss and six of the Democrats on the Harriss Board attended a meeting in the mayor's office. Since there was a quorum of aldermen from the old Board present, they organized themselves and adopted the following resolution:

"Resolved: By the Mayor and Board of Aldermen of the City of Wilmington, in meeting duly assembled, that they decline to surrender the city government to any body of citizens claiming the same until required to do so by the courts."

After putting the Wright Board on notice, the Harriss Board elected men to the office of City Clerk and Treasurer and Chief of Police. Ignoring the claims of contesting mayors and boards, Silas P. Wright and his board of five appointed and two elected aldermen took possession of Wilmington's government. Since the creation of the Police Board had placed the distribution of patronage in city government in Republican and Populist hands, this meant that the Republicans already controlled the machinery of city government. This became obvious when the Chief of Police, John R. Melton, a Populist, issued orders to the city's policemen that they were only to obey either him or Wright.

At its April 5, 1897 meeting, the Wright board began the dispensation of political patronage. During the April 5 session of the board, it elected 18 whites and 8 blacks to the police force. (Silverite alderman, Benjamin) Keith objected to the election of the police force as a whole. He wanted "to see competent officers elected as our lives, property and liberty are in their hands. Keith criticized the appointments as being too political. The Wright board, realizing that the strength of the Republican party in Wilmington depended on the black vote, gave 9 more blacks patronage positions in city government.

The ousted Democratic board with Harriss as mayor instituted a suit against the Wright board alleging unconstitutionality of the 1897 act governing Wilmington and demanding possession of their offices. (In total,) Three Democratic mayors and boards of aldermen were contesting the possession of the city government with the Wright board.

These legal machinations produced strained feelings and a tense situation in which violence increasingly became a threat. The various suits were consolidated at the April, 1897 term of the New Hanover County Superior Court. The presiding judge, John D. McIver, a Democrat, rendered a judgment for Harriss and his Democratic board. McIver ruled that the 1897 amendments to Wilmington's charter were unconstitutional and the aldermanic election held under them illegal. Wright and his board appealed McIver's decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court and refused to surrender their offices. The New Hanover County Supreme Court deferred the cases and required the appointees of the Wright board to post bond until the North Carolina Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of W.N. Harriss et al, v. S.P. Wright et al.

Although the Wright board had appointed a police force in April, Wright moved to build up his support in the city's black Republicans by adding more blacks to the police department. Accordingly, under Wright's direction the board appointed yet another new police force for the city. The new force consisted of 5 officers and 27 patrolmen. While all the officers were white, ten patrolmen were black. This attracted much attention, resurrected old fears, and raised the possibility of a future white-supremacy campaign.

On November 16, 1897, one year before the 1898 legislative elections, the North Carolina Supreme Court untangled the confused web surrounding Wilmington's government. The Court handed down its decision in favor of S.P. Wright and his board. Chief Justice William T. Faircloth, a Republican, wrote the unanimous opinion of the Court, which was composed of 3 Republicans, 1 Democrat and 1 Populist…thus reversing the decision of the lower courts.
Wilmington was now firmly under Republican control, but while establishing control, the Republicans had resurrected the specter of black rule by electing and appointing blacks to the Board of Aldermen…Police Board and the Board of Audit and Finance.

More importantly, the appointment of blacks to the police department and to other patronage posts in municipal government gave the Democrats ammunition to use against the Republicans in the upcoming election. Since many of Wilmington's whites were unemployed, the appointment of blacks to the police department compounded their frustration.

On November 30, 1897, two weeks after the court decision, the Board of Alderman held a special meeting and implemented a paid fire department to replace the existing volunteer companies, citing a reduction of fire insurance rate costs and lower city appropriations. They established four fire companies, two white and two black, and selected 13 whites and 12 blacks to man these companies.

Many pro-business, conservative Democrats resented Keith's using the board as a platform from which to advocate municipal ownership of the privately-owned electrical, sewer, water and street railway systems. Not only did they consider his ideas to be wild and radical, but they also viewed them to be a frontal attack on the most sacred of American institutions, the essence of this country---free enterprise. Republican control of the Board of Aldermen frightened Wilmington's Democratic leaders more than blacks serving as policemen, health officers and firemen.
(McDuffie, pp. 494-509)

Democrats Organize To Defeat Fusion:
The Democrats had little difficulty in securing the aid of the banking interests against the Fusionists. The fear that many cities and towns would repudiate their bonds…helped the Democrats. For many years the State's counties, cities and towns had been accumulating heavy bonded indebtedness; and bondholders blamed the Fusionists for fact that several counties had recently repudiated their bonds.

The Fusionist revenue act of 1897 also assisted the Democrats in gaining support for their campaign tactics to overthrow the Fusionists. This act provided for the taxation of capital stock on its face value, and, the State's railroads wanted the Fusionists driven from power. The Democrats depicted Fusionism as a threat to property rights and the cause of widespread economic stagnation in the State.

The North Carolina Democratic Party executive committee met in Raleigh in November, 1897…and issued an address to the State's voters. "We have fallen on evil days in North Carolina…the days of reconstruction…demonstrate the truth that no Southern State can be governed with honor and decency by the Republican party…Too large a number of its (Republican) voters are ignorant…and too large a number of its leaders are (too) venal and corrupt to give North Carolina good government.

All the white electors who intend to vote with us in the next election and who desire the re-establishment of Anglo-Saxon supremacy and honest government in North Carolina…(must) participate in all our primaries and convention."
(McDuffie, pp. 516-517)

At the Democratic convention…the platform denounced "the scandal, extravagance, incompetency and corruption of the present Republican State administration" and "all the enactments of the last two legislatures by which cities and towns in the State have been turned over to Negro domination."

In its concluding paragraph, the (Democratic Platform of 1898) stressed:

"We call attention to the wise, economical, honest and honorable administration of the affairs of our State for twenty years prior to the present Republican administration, and promise the people a return to wise, honest, economical and honorable administration under Democratic success. We call upon every believer in honor, honesty and economy, upon every advocate of white supremacy, upon every advocate of equal and just taxation, upon every advocate of the income tax…, upon every advocate of the restoration of silver…, upon every opponent of government by injunction…, upon every lover of decency and good government and opponents of the present prevailing conditions, to write with us in our contest with the Republican party---the great enemy of our principles, and aid us in redeeming…the State from the scandal and incompetence which now afflicts it."
(McDuffie, pp. 541-542

As a related perspective on the role of black voters in the Populist political movements in the latter 19th century, the following article is noteworthy.

The Negro and Populism: A Kansas Case Study

(Chafe, William H., The Journal of Southern History, Vol. XXXIV, Aug. 1968, Number 3, pp. 402-419)

One of the problems that has most intrigued and perplexed students of populism is the extent of Negro participation in the third-party movement.  The question is important because in its finer moments populism represented a powerful ideal—the belief that men of different races but common interests could join together to secure economic and political justice—and because the failure of that ideal in large measure caused the failure of populism.

The theme of a shared self-interest looms large as an explanation of why the Populists courted the Negro.  Because farmers and laborers of both races suffered a common oppression, Tom Watson said, “it is to the interest of a colored man to vote with the white man…” Political organization in the third party proceeded on this assumption.  Two Negroes were appointed to the State Executive Committee of the Texas People’s party; five of the ten-member campaign committee in Greene County, Georgia, were Negroes; and the Arkansas state platform pledged “to elevate the downtrodden: regardless of race.  “Never before or since, C. Vann Woodward has concluded, “have the two races in the South come so close together politically.”

Despite this political closeness, the alliance split, foundered, and disappeared.  Of the three reasons most commonly given to explain the split, the first and most common is the prejudice and fear of the poor white.  You could tell a tenant farmer how much he was exploited, Tom Watson observed, but if the local politician cried “Negro rule!” the entire fabric of reason and common sense which you had patiently constructed would fall…”  Prejudice was more powerful than self-interest, fear of Negro equality stronger even than revulsion at one’s own wretchedness.  A second reason given for the failure of the alliance is the wholesale fraud perpetuated by the Democrats.  Negroes were bribed, harassed, and intimidated into voting against the Populists, and blocs of votes were counted that had never been cast.  Finally there is the persuasive thesis of C. Vann Woodward that Negro leaders delivered votes voluntarily to the Bourbon Democrats as part of an ongoing bargain which guaranteed Negro leaders patronage and position.

The problem with each of these explanations except the last is that the black man is viewed as an object acted upon rather than as an actor.  The attitudes, aspirations, and concerns of the Negro community are not accounted for.  In seeking a dynamic to explain the failure of Populism, historians have searched only within the white community.

The present study seeks to correct the imbalance by viewing populism through the eyes of the Negro community.  For two reasons its focus is Kansas.  First and most important, a large number off newspaper controlled and edited by Negroes served the Negro population of Kansas.  Second, Kansas was free of the confusion inherent in the coalition politics of the South.  In the states of the old Confederacy Populists fused with Republicans, and since Negroes traditionally voted Republican, it is difficult to determine whether their support for a fusion candidate represented an endorsement of populism.  In Kansas that situation was reversed.  The first People’s party in 1890 ran independently of the other two parties, and when it did fuse in 1892 it joined the Democrats.  If the Negro supported the Populists, it would be in opposition to the party of Lincoln.  His decision would be clear.

The intention of this article is to question the Populist assumption that Negroes and whites shared a common self-interest and to reassess the widespread belief that white prejudice was the major reason for populism’s failure.  Its thesis is that in Kansas the Negro’s perception of reality differed significantly from that of the white and as a consequence Negroes and whites did not share a common self-interest.  These two races joined the Populist movement for different reasons: the white man was concerned with economics, the Negro with prejudice and protection from violence.  To use the fertile concepts of David M. Potter, the one wanted a better chance for upward mobility while the other wanted “status,” a secure place in the community.  Thus when Negroes in substantial numbers joined the Kansas Populists, they did so only because populism directly appealed to their own immediate self-interest—a self-interest not shared by whites—through promises of protection and patronage.  Negro Populists did not subscribe to Populist attacks on the rich and wellborn who in the past had been their most dependable protectors.  They were conservatives, not radicals.  Negroes thus brought to populism an understanding and perception of reality totally different from that of the white man.  The result was that Negro Populists disagreed with white Populists on program, ideology, and basic assumptions and were just as responsible for the breakdown of the biracial alliance in Kansas as the white Populists.

Most Negroes came to Kansas from the South central states in what has been called the “Exodus of 1879.”  Seeking escape from the political persecution of white racists and the economic frustration of tenant farming, they responded to rumors of a “New Canaan” in Kansas and made their way upriver from Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and Tennessee.  So intense was the flow northward that by 1880 one out of every six persons in greater Topeka and one out of every five persons in greater Kansas City was a Negro.

The concentration of Negroes in the cities had far-reaching economic and political consequences and was a direct result of the conditions which greeted the migrants upon their arrival.  The winter was cold, and sickness and starvation threatened the survival of the penniless Negroes.  In response, the Kansas Freedmen’s Relief Association raised $40,000 and distributed 500,000 pounds of clothing, while Governor John P. St. John welcomed the newcomers to a state where they could be free of political persecution.  Through such treatment, the Negroes received much of what they had come to find—safety and respect—in the cities where they landed.  They no longer felt compelled to move on, and by 1890 almost two-thirds (31,633) of the Negro population of Kansas lived in cities with populations over 2,5000.  Of 17,289 Negroes who were gainfully employed, only 4,281 worked in agriculture and mining.

The major political consequence of Negro concentration in the cities was that party organizations cultivated the Negro vote.  Indeed, it would have been politically suicidal not to have done so. Kansas was a state of numerous ethnic groups and voting blocs. Twelve thousand potential Negro voters could not be overlooked.  It is hardly surprising, then, that in 1882 Edward P. McCabe, a Negro republican, was elected state auditor or that he was re-elected in 1884.  Five years after the Exodus, the Negro people were a politically significant force in Kansas.

The movement of Negroes toward populism began as a reaction against Republican indifference and prejudice.  Indeed, for those who switched their party allegiance Republicans constituted a negative reference group long before Populists became a positive reference group.  The Republicans began to ignore the Negro in 1886, when instead of renominating McCabe for state auditor, they gave their backing to an Irishman.  Their action was politically understandable.  The Negro population of the state increased by only 15.32 per cent between 1880 and 1890, while the white population grew by 44.57 per cent.  Many of the 424,000 new whites were first-generation immigrants with strong ethnic ties.  On any relative scale of political preference, the white newcomers deserved priority.

Republican indifference coincided with the rapid growth of race prejudice, however, and the two were not unconnected in the eyes of many Negroes.  In 1888 Negro high school students in Leavenworth were not allowed to participate in their own graduation activities, and the local business college rejected those who wished to continue their education.  In December 1889 a federal jury was forced to leave a Topeka hotel because it was accompanied by a Negro bailiff.  A restaurant refused to serve Negro and white fireman together.  In 1892 the Kansas courts gave legal sanction to such discrimination by invalidating the 1874 Kansas public accommodations law.   Worst of all, lynching and lawlessness increased.  In the summer of 1888 white citizens of Chetopa lynched two Negroes who had been charged with murder.  A month later a Topeka man shot a Negro suspected of assaulting a white women.  It was as if Kansas were “drifting into the Ku Klux and mob violence of the South,” observed a Negro editor, and without a “word of remonstrance” from state officials.  The Negro assailant of a white girl was beaten, while the white assailant of a Negro girl was released.  “Why is it,” wondered the Kansas City American Citizen, “that in the one case the law is so rigidly enforced and in the other it is winked at?…Is not the virtue of the Negro girl as sacred as that of the white?”

In some instances Republican indifference blended so closely with prejudice that it was impossible to know where one began and the other ended.  Such was especially the case in the local elections of 1888.  In Topeka G.L. Currin, a Negro was the regular Republican nominee for police judge, while two other Negroes ran for registrar of deeds and the school board.  Yet despite Topeka’s Republican majority of 1,500 votes, all three were defeated.  “Topeka mugwumps,” charged the American Citizen, “would sooner see every place in the country filled with a Rebel Brigadier than to see black republican there.”   The most blatant example of “cutting” came in the election for county clerk of Shawnee.  John M. Brown, a former leader of the Freedman’s Relief Association, was the Republican candidate.  Out of a total vote of 4,280, brown received 2,006.  He won election by a small plurality, but his victory did not blunt the Negro’s awareness of the “duplicity and treachery of the great mass of white Republicans.”

The Negro’s “palmy days in politics” were over, Reverend Benjamin F. Foster said in 1888.  The race would henceforth be “used only as an emergency tool.”  By 1890, when E.B. McCabe, the former state auditor, applied unsuccessfully for the job of sergeant-at-arms in the state legislature, Foster’s prophecy seemed fulfilled.  The attitude of the Republican party toward the Negro could be summarized in the question, “How shall we beat the coons and at the same time save the nigger vote?”

Still, many Negroes remained loyal to the Republican party out of gratitude for its past deeds and fear of the alternatives.  The Republican party had “saved the government,” broken “the fetters and chains from the limbs of four million sons and daughters of Ham,” and transformed property into human life.  The Negro had “no way of judging the future except…by the past,” asserted the Parsons Blade, and for that reason alone, he should continue to support Republicans.  More basic for Negro Republicans, however, was their fear of the Populist-Democratic alliance.  How could the Negro be expected to support a party “leagued with those men who for twenty-five years have been active in suppressing the ballot and murdering and lynching our people,” asked the Topeka Weekly Call.  If the People’s party were nothing but an extension of the Democratic party, said the Blade, any Negro who subscribed to it was a “political bastard, unworthy of confidence or respect.”

Some Negroes were not afraid, however, and they saw in the People’s part an opportunity to recoup the losses suffered under Republicans and to regain for the Negroes a secure place in Kansas society.  Negro leaders had long urged their race “to act independent of the party lash,” and like the Germans and Irish, to use their votes as a lever on behalf of the party promising the greater advantages.  Populism provided the opportunity to turn words into action.

Benjamin F. Foster was perhaps the first important Negro to become a Populist.  A minister and a militant, he was bitter at the white man’s betrayal of the Negro.  Black men, he charged were not allowed to learn trades, work as clerks, or in any way “rise in the scale of society.”   They were ostracized and prostituted by the country for which they had died in battle.  The only good thing that had happened to them he said, was that they could no longer be deceived by Republican rhetoric.  “They know Lincoln is dead and a white man is a white man.”

Foster’s alienation was the basis for his becoming a Populist.  In 1888 he had urged Kansas Negroes to emigrate to South America.  By 1890, however, the People’s party had formed to eliminate the injustices of old party politics and to give hope that a better day might come to Kansas.  The Populists were worth supporting, Foster wrote to the Topeka Weekly Call, because they “are in favor of the masses and against monopolies.  It is the party of the poor man,” he said, “and would give him a chance to live and heal his present misery.”

The best evidence that the People’s party cared about the Negro, or at least about his vote, is that it nominated Foster to be state auditor in 1890.  Foster lost and ran slightly behind most of his running mates.  But in Kansas City, and Topeka he received as many votes as the rest of the ticket, and in two predominately Negro precincts outpolled the other Populist candidates two to one.  Foster’ nomination—the first in eight years by a majority party—served notice on both Negroes and Republicans that Populists were actively bidding for the black man’s vote.

There was other evidence that Populist concern for the Negro would continue.  The white Populist paper in Kansas, for example, predicted that the third party would end the race problem in the South.  “[F] or the common interest of all,” it declared, “black and white will vote together.”  At the 1891 Populist convention at Cincinnati Foster was a delegate, Terence V. Powderly delivered an eloquent plea for equal rights, and on center stage Confederate and Union veterans joined hands, a Negro between them.  In Kansas itself Leonidas L. Polk, president of the national Farmers’ Alliance, pledged that the Alliance would look after Negroes and “see that they are allowed to vote… They are largely in this movement,” he said, “and will be an important factor in the campaign next year.”

With the approach of the 1892 state elections, third-party strength among Negroes became increasingly obvious.  Negro Populists worked hard and spoke well.  “The Alliance boys, rather did the other fellows up in fine shape,” a Negro journalist reported on a campaign debate.  The Republicans, meanwhile, did their part.  Invalidation of the Kansas civil rights act by a G.O.P. judge caused Negroes to “gallop to the third party like sheep.”  Summing up the political scene in early 1893 the Kansas State Ledger reflected some of the undercurrents in the Negro community. “Why do the average colored gentlemen join the People’s party?” it asked rhetorically.  “We believe it to be an epidemic—a raging disease.”  The Call claimed that 4,500 Negro republicans left their party to vote Populist in 1892.

Organization among dissident Negroes proceeded apace and had as much to do with the strength of populism among Negroes as the contagion of political ideas.  As early as 1888 Negro Independents and Democrats of Kansas met in convention.  Most major communities had Equality Political Leagues.  And from both groups B. F. Foster gathered those Negroes who were most dissatisfied with the political status quo and formed a Negro Populist League.  Although organizational efficiency was sporadic, it was reported in 1894 that there were “several large and flourishing colored pop clubs in different parts of the state” and a Negro Populist newspaper supported by white benefactors.

The career of Fred Jeltz, editor of the Topeka Kansas State Ledger, in many ways typified the movement in the Negro community toward populism.  Jeltz was a nominal republican when he became editor of the Ledger.  In 1892 he urged his readers to be “claimed by all parties and owned by none.”  But when five Negro republicans were defeated in the 1893 spring primary in Topeka, his incipient independence turned into open rebellion.  “When it becomes a regular issue to defeat every colored man that keeps his head up for office,” Jeltz declared, “the Negro must bolt.”  Populist recognition provided a positive reason to bolt, supplementing the negative reason of republican prejudice.  Jeltz was impressed that the Populists employed Negro enrolling clerks in the capitol and that the Cleveland administration appointed Negro Democrats to the post office.  By the summer of 1893 he was ready to announce his change of party allegiance.  “The Populist gave the colored people more in one year than the republicans did in thirty,” he said.  “We mean to further the cause of the people’s party.”

A considerable body of evidence indicates, therefore, that by 1893 many Kansas Negroes had responded to the appeal of Populism.  Republican prejudice and indifference had created a political vacuum into which the Populists moved with skill.   The critical question still unanswered is what dynamic beyond resentment of Republican prejudice caused Negroes to respond to the Populist initiative.

The concern of Jeltz and other Negro leaders for tangible recognition provides at least part of the answer.  Negroes lived a marginal existence.  Beset by fear of violence and prejudice, they existed from day to day at the caprice of the white community.  They could not rely on the courts for equal justice or on the police for equal protection.  No institutional safeguards provided stability or security in their lives.  In the midst of such anxiety, the world of politics assumed special importance, because politicians set the tone of the community and supplied the cues which would inform both the Negro and white community of the Negro’s status.  Politics therefore became a critical arena in which the Negro sought to bargain his vote for protection; the rewards given for party loyalty were the signs which told of his success or failure.

In this context, patronage was a key to Negro political behavior.  Like a barometer, it served to measure the black man’s status in the eyes of the white community.  If Negroes were given a large share of public jobs, it meant they were safe.  If, on the other hand, their jobs were taken from them and given to members of another racial or ethnic group, it meant they were vulnerable—no longer important enough to receive the symbolic recognition and protection conferred on a group by the appointment of a representative person to a public office.  “Our friends prove their friendship by giving us employment…”said the Weekly Call.  And the State Ledger added, “Protection in Kansas…for the colored people means a job.”

Considerations of patronage and recognition were thus decisive in any political equation.  “We’re working for recognition and principle,” said the Parsons Blade, “but if one party won’t recognize us another will.”  (Italics added.)  Taken in its worst light, such a modus operandi made the Negro a political Judas.  Indeed, some Negroes seemed to accept such a definition of their position.  “If the Democratic administration comes up with the right thing,” remarked the State Ledger, “all good negroes will speak well [of it].”   A more realistic interpretation, however, would recognize that Negroes were practicing self-protection after having been cheated for most of their political lives.  The white man’s world had been worthless.  Negroes had been gulled.  In a world of poverty and prejudice, they could not afford the luxury of altruism.  “We must cast our lot with those who are most likely to win our strength attached to theirs,” reasoned the Parsons Blade,  “and who give us a reasonably fair amount of recognition.”

The Republicans, as noted above, generally withheld such recognition after 1888, and in the 1890’s their attitude continued to be hostile.  In 1894 the Republican ex-senator John Ingalls called for the deportation of Negroes to Africa because the black and white races were incompatible.  Shortly thereafter the Republican state convention gave the Negro candidate for auditor only thirty-six of nine hundred votes.  Snubbing of Negroes reached a climax when the Republican party withdrew its financial support from Negro newspapers.  In a rage, the Parsons Blade declared, “We do not propose to run this paper for fun or for our health…We are in it for money and if the Republicans will not give us a share of their patronage, perhaps some other party will.”  The Republicans seemed no longer to care about even the appearance of concern for the Negro.

Populists, on the other hand, offered Negroes recognition and the hope for renewed stability.  Some Negroes were drawn to the People’s party in 1890 when it nominated Foster for state auditor.  Many more were converted two years later when Populism rewarded its early followers and proved that its concern for the Negro was not a one-shot affair.    The Populists were selective in their patronage and brilliant in their timing.  In the week that five Negro Republicans were defeated in the Topeka primary, Populists named Negroes to be deputy commissioner of elections and deputy coal inspector in Topeka.  Neither office had ever before been held by a Negro.  At the post office the trend continued.  Four Negroes were appointed where before there had only been two.  Nine more Negro Populists received jobs at the state capitol.  But the most important and dramatic indication of Populist concern came when Governor Lorenzo D. Lewelling sent state troops into Salinas to prevent the lynching of a Negro prisoner.  “Governor Lewelling knows his duty and he does it,” exclaimed the Weekly Call.  He could be relied upon.  To have an administration from which protection could be expected and assistance sought was itself a breakthrough.  “The Pops seem to favor the colored men all along the line,” observed the State Ledger.  And many Negroes responded by favoring the “Pops.”

Negro participation in Populists politics should not be confused, however, with Negro endorsement of Populist ideology.  The appeal of patronage was distinct from the set of ideas which featured the Populist approach to social and economic problems.  Paradoxically, while the Negro subscribed to Populist politics, he opposed Populist policies and revealed how different his perception of the world was form that of the white person.

A major source of the Negro’s opposition to Populist ideology was his hostility toward organized labor and his friendliness toward capital.  Populism asked in theory that the Negro align himself with labor against capital.  But the labor movement was one of the Negroes worst enemies.  It had barred him from employment as a craftsman, refused him training as an apprentice, rebuffed him when he sought union membership, and assaulted him when he accepted wages below scale.  “Every man connected with organized labor,” said the Weekly Call, “has his hands on the throat of the black man choking him down…It is our duty to see that organized labor fails.”

Conversely Negroes felt friendly toward capital.  The employer was viewed as a helpless victim of labor pressure and prejudice.  “The wealthy class would give employment to our people in all grades of service,” asserted the American Citizen, “if [only] left free to their own impulses.”  Such sentiments may have disregarded employer prejudices and ignored the freedom employers employed in the open-shop system, but they had a rational basis in the Negroes experience with labor agitation.

A strike was almost certain to confirm the Negro’s antilabor bias.  An all-white union would pull its members out on strike.  “Benevolent” employers would hire Negro replacements.  The union would assault the replacements.  And government troops or Pinkerton men would assault the assaulters.  The script rarely changed, and there could be little question that Negro sympathies lay with the employers.  In their most bitter moments Negroes welcomed violence, as when the American Citizen cheered the murder of Pennsylvania strikers who had attacked Negro strikebreakers.  And at all times Negroes recognized that labor strife provided an opportunity for the advancement of the race.  At Homestead, for example, the American Citizen reported that fifteen hundred Negroes had been hired as strikebreakers.  In such a situation, Negroes could not afford to “join issue against the railroads and other corporations in this country.”  The white unions had organized on a segregated basis.  “The Negro had no part in this contention,” the Parsons Blade asserted, “and he should remain mute.  This hurricane of confusion will yet break the locks of prejudice…and the Negro will be welcomed at the forge and bench in preference to the striking element.”  In the midst of race antagonism and depression, a strike became an opportunity to destroy white labor, not an occasion to unite with it.

Negroes therefore developed their own version of class warfare.  The antagonists remained capital and labor, but the criterion for choosing sides was prejudice rather than production.  The money power had hired Negro workers and been kind.  Labor unions had harasses Negro workers and been brutal.  For the dependent Negro there was no real choice.  The black man had a “duty to seek strong powerful friends like the railroad companies.” Thus Populists ideology and Negro attitudes were the reverse of each other.  What was evil and villainous for one was good and heroic for the other.  The irony reached its extreme when C.H.J Taylor, Negro editor of the American Citizen and Populist candidate for state legislature in 1892, called Jay Gould “as great a benefactor and philanthropist as the world has ever seen.”

In personal relationships Negroes trusted the rich and distrusted the poor.  Whites who were “to the manner born” were expected to be fair.  Negroes, observed Taylor, could “afford to trust the intelligent, Christian hearted wealthy gentlemen.”  Poor whites, on the other hand, were often grouped together with aliens and characterized as “venomous reptiles,” or anarchists and blamed for the Negro plight.  “It is the worthless trashy poor.. and the grasping greedy foreigners that creates h… for us,” declared the American Citizen.  Distaste for poor whites also had political ramifications.  Ten months before he himself was a Populist candidate, C.H.J. Taylor denounced Southern Populists as “shabby, shiftless” and not “as good as any kind of negro.”  Little wonder that Taylor applauded the defeat of Reuben F. Kolb, Populist candidate for governor in Alabama, at the same time he cheered the victory of Lorenzo Lewelling, Populist candidate for governor in Kansas.  Most Negroes preferred the “better class” of whites and given a choice, would join the Weekly Call and “endorse conservative white men everywhere.”

It would be a mistake, then to equate Negro support of Populist politics with an endorsement of Populist ideology. Politics offered tangible recognition—through patronage—of the Negro’s worth in society.  It appealed directly to Negro self-interest.  Ideology, on the other hand, offered far-off promises which were unreal to a race whose immediate concern was survival.  More important, the promises and doctrines of Populist ideology were antithetical to Negro experience.

The key to the paradox of Negro involvement in populism is that Negroes perceived the world differently from whites. It might be true that employers used prejudice to divide and exploit their workers and that a union of blacks and whites was the only way to eliminate poverty and bias.  But the Negroes did not perceive this. He saw facts rather than theories, segregated unions and segregated strikes rather than a union of all exploited peoples against their exploiters.  Self-interest told the Negro to follow those who offered protection and a job, even if it were to last only the length of a strike.  Yet, ironically, it was the Populists who offered protection and a job when it came to politics.   The paradox therefore came full circle.  Because the Negro saw the world from the perspective of his own immediate self-interest rather than that of the white man, he both supported Populist politics and opposed Populist ideology.

Self-interest, however, was too narrow of a base for an enduring political alliance of Populists and Negroes.  Fred Jeltz had said in 1893 that he would stay with the Populists “as long as Lewelling stands by the negroes.”  An approach on that level, however, had one glaring flaw.  It placed the entire burden for maintaining the alliance on the Populists and assumed that Negroes could compel the continuation of patronage without having to reciprocate with loyalty to Populist policies and actions. The flaw was fatal.  By 1894 Populists ceased responding to the demand of Negroes for political recognition, and the black race was left with nowhere to turn.

The disaffection between Negroes and Populists began with Negro disappointment over protection and patronage.  One Negro was lynched in Salinas in April 1893, and another was lynched in Leavenworth in August.  W.J. Johnson and George Gross, two of the appointees to the post office, were charged with rifling the mails and indicted by a federal court.  Nick North, the Negro Populist who had been appointed deputy commissioner of elections, was dismissed in May 1894 for incompetence.  By July 1894 Jeltz renounced populism and observed that “the colored people who left the bread tray of the Republican party and went with the pops for a job, got left so badly…[that] their high hopes of future prosperity are solely depending on the Republican party.”  With no bonds beyond patronage to sustain their attachment to populism, Negroes moved again into the political marketplace.  But no party would bid for them.

One of the reasons they fared so poorly was white resentment at their political tactics.  When W.J. Johnson, a reporter for the American Citizen, wrote from Topeka in 1893 that the combined total of local Republican patronage and state-wide Populist patronage proved the advantage of split-ticket voting, his conclusions were premature.  In fact, the Negro penchant for split-ticket voting alienated the major parties by establishing that the Negro cared more for race loyalty and selfish advantage than for party advantage.  Self-interest became a term of opprobrium when looked at through the eyes of prejudice, and many white politicians shared the antagonism of the Kansas City Star toward “coons” and “niggers” who divided their vote “because there was more to be made in that way.” 

As a consequence Negroes in Kansas by 1896 were isolated completely from political power and influence.  In the state house there was only one Negro messenger, in the penitentiary one Negro guard.  The Negro was “politically on a toboggan slide.”  What had been a time of political attention and recognition was over, whether because of prejudice, the arithmetic of the census, or both.  “For the last fourteen or fifteen years, we have been great in politics,” said the Weekly Call, “and today we are like the jug handle, on the outside.”

It is probably unwise to make far-reaching generalizations on the basis of a specific case study.  The fact that Kansas Negroes were predominately urban, for example, while Southern Negroes lived on farms argues strongly against any effort to tie together too closely the story of the race in the two areas.  Certain conclusions on the Kansas experience are suggestive, however, for the broader problem of the Negro’s relationship to populism.

First, it is clear that a substantial minority of Negroes did participate in the People’s party in Kansas.  Although the exact number is difficult to estimate because of the lack of reliable election data, we have the unanimous testimony of Negro newspapers of divergent political persuasion that populism made substantial inroads into the Negro vote.  The Weekly Call, for example, a Republican paper, estimated that 4,500 Negroes, or one-third the potential eligible voters, supported the Populist ticket in 1892.

Second, Negroes supported the People’s party because it granted them recognition and patronage in the midst of Republican indifference and hostility.  The Populists’ nomination of Benjamin F. Foster, a Negro, as state auditor and their appointment of numerous black men to patronage posts offered a striking contrast to the prejudice manifested by Republicans who voted down negro candidates and refused to renew Negro appointments.

Third, Negro support of Populist politics did not carry over to Populist policies.  Ideology was not the basis of the Negro’s participation in the People’s party. From long experience with prejudice, Negroes had learned to distrust poor whites and to favor the employer class over labor unions.   Paradoxically, while self-interest caused Negroes to respond favorably to Populist patronage, it caused them to react negatively to Populist ideology.

Fourth, the same self-interest, narrowly conceived, made the alliance of Populists and Negroes unstable and untenable.  Negro ties to populism were neither thorough nor deep, and they dissolved the moment the third party cut off or reduced political recognition.

Implicit in all these statements is the underlying thesis of this study that Negroes and whites had different perceptions of reality and therefore different definitions of self-interest.  The primary concern of the white person was economic.  He wished to enlarge his share of the economic pie, and it was in his self-interest to curb the power of monopolies and employers.  The primary concerns of the Negro, on the other hand, were prejudice and violence.  He sought security, stability, and status from the white community, things which in the past the rich and wellborn had been more willing to give than the poor.  It was not in the Negro’s self-interest to attack a class that had traditionally befriended him.  It was in his self-interest, however to seek protection and security wherever he could find them.

In effect, politics was the one arena in which the Negro had power to bargain for his goals.  When his vote could mean the difference between victory and defeat for a political party, he could demand safety and protection in exchange for it.  The language for this exchange was patronage.  If Negroes were important enough to receive the symbolic recognition of public office or appointment, they knew they had a place in society which the white community would protect.  In essence, political recognition meant security, and on this narrow ground for a brief moment the self-interest of white and Negro populists met.  In the face of Republican indifference and hostility, Negroes sought and received a modicum of recognition, hence security, within the Populist fold.  With passage of time, however, and given the readiness of Negroes to change political allegiance whenever patronage was withdrawn or replaced, the divergent self-interests of the white and Negro communities inevitably led populism to founder as a biracial movement.  In short, the Negro had as much to do with the breakdown of the Populist ideal in Kansas as the white.

If the analysis is correct, then it is possible to hypothesize that in other states as well populism failed as a biracial movement because Negroes and whites did not share a common self-interest.  In Alabama and Georgia, for example, Rueben Kolb and Tom Watson were defeated in large measure by Negro votes.  It has been customary to contribute this phenomenon to violence and fraud on the part of the Bourbon Democrats.  But to blame the white man entirely for the Negro’s vote is to treat the Negro as a neutral object and to deny him his right of complicity. It is possible that Negroes voted against the Populist ticket because the rewards, recognition, and status offered by the Bourbon Democrats more directly appealed to the Negro’s perception of his immediate self-interest.

Whatever the case, a study of Kansas in the Populist era shows how important it is that historians concerned with Negro-white relations look at the Negro as an active participant instead of as a passive observer and recognize that the Negro’s peculiar history and experience have given him a set of assumptions, perceptions, and interests which may be quite distinct from those of his white counterpart.  The results of such an approach may not always be pleasing to the liberal mentality: but they will serve better to inform our understanding of what happened in our past and what is happening in our present.

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

North Carolina History Told By Contemporaries
Hugh Talmadge Lefler, Editor, University of North Carolina Press, 1965.

Reconstruction in North Carolina.
Joseph G. DeR. Hamilton, Books For Libraries Press, 1971

The Negro and Populism: A Kansas Case Study
William H. Chafe, Journal of Southern History, August, 1968

Email: editor@1898wilmington.hypermart.net