1898 Wilmington Race Riot


"We shall not make the black man a slave; we shall not buy him or sell him; but we shall not asociate with him. He shall be free to live, and to thrive, if he can, and to pay taxes and perform duties; but he shall not be free to dine and drink at our board---to share with us the deliberations of the jury box---to sit upon the seat of judgment, however capable he may be---to plead in our courts---to represent us in the Legislature---to mingle with us in the concert-room, the lecture-room, the theatre, or the church, or to marry with our daughters. We are of another race, and he is inferior. Let him know his place---and keep it." This is the prevalent feeling, if not the language of the free North.

Charles MacKay, Life and Liberty in America: or, Sketches of a Tour in the United States and Canada in 1857-1858


The White Political Supremacy Argument:
An Understanding of Its Meaning In The 1890’s

What Is Meant By "White Supremacy?"

To better understand what “white supremacy” was in the 1890’s vocabulary, it is essential that one reads contemporary accounts of the issue and frame the political philosophy in the context of the times. And the idea of a separation of the races was not at all specific to the South.

“Said President Charles W. Eliot of Harvard University in 1907: “Perhaps if there were as many Negroes here as there, we might think it better for them to be in separate schools…if they were equal in numbers or in a majority, we might deem a separation a necessity.” 

(International Library of Negro Life and History, Herbert M. Morais, Publishers Company, Inc, 1969, page 59)


A "White Supremacy" Campaign in 1875?:

"In April, 1868, in an election that was…marked by the election of a Republican governor and legislature, the constitution, including the universal manhood suffrage clause, was ratified by popular vote of 93,084 for and 74,015 against.

The constitution of 1868 was shortly thereafter approved by Congress and North Carolina’s senators and representatives, all Republicans except one, took their seats in Washington. The new State legislature met in Raleigh on July 1, 1868, and on July 2 ratified the 14th Amendment. General Canby followed this action by a declaration ending military rule. Civil government under Republican auspices had come to North Carolina.

Republican dominance however was to have a comparatively short life in North Carolina. In 1870 that party lost control of both houses of the State legislature. By 1874 the Republicans had become so reduced in strength that they failed to defeat a bill calling for a constitutional convention to be held the following year. The avowed aim of the Democrats in calling the convention was to alter the Constitution of 1868.

Republican rule in North Carolina, according to many historians ended in the aftermath of the election of 1876. In reality, the State did not become solidly Democratic until 1879, when the Democrats captured the judiciary. Nonetheless, 1876 is recognized in North Carolina as the date of resumption of “home rule.”

The campaign that brought this about has been described by North Carolina historians as the greatest political battle in the history of the State. The Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Zebulon B. Vance, set the tone of the Democrats’ campaign when he characterized the Republican party as “begotten by a scalawag out of a mulatto and born in an outhouse.”

White supremacy had come to North Carolina, but not to the heavily Negro populated counties of the East. The task of freeing this area from Negro rule, however, had been assigned to the legislature by the Constitutional Convention of 1875." (The Negro in North Carolina, 1876-1894, Frenise A. Logan, UNC Press, 1964, pp. 8-10)


Hinton Rowan Helper on White Supremacy in 1857:

To put the "white supremacy" question in perspective, it is helpful to look at Hinton Rowan Helper's antebellum writings, especially his well-known antislavery tract "The Impending Crisis," printed in New York City. Though his book railed against the institution of slavery in the South, "he  wished to see every Negro, free and slave, shipped out of the country, and immediately. His prejudiced views on race emerged early, in his book "The Land of Gold," on his experiences in California, in which he concluded that Chinese immigration was undesirable and that all "inferior races" should become subordinate to the Anglo-Saxon. He included in the inferior people not only the Chinese, but the Irish, American Indians, Mexicans, Jews and Negroes."

(Books That Changed The South; The Impending Crisis, " Robert B. Downs, UNC Press, 1977, pp 114-122)

Here is Raleigh News and Observer editor Josephus Daniel's account of a discussion with black Methodist preacher Parson Leak after the Democrat's election victory in November 1898:

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

"On the contrary" he said, "this old rascal who is up in the Governor's mansion, who has gotten everything he has from Negroes, has been ungrateful. They have no respect for him. They know that at heart you are their friend and they need somebody who was a leader of the white supremacy campaign to give them assurance of friendship and protection. You are the very man they want."

And so I went out and opened the Negro Fair. The Negroes had assembled in great numbers. I tried to voice to them the genuine friendship which the leaders of white supremacy felt for them and pointed out that it was a campaign not directed at the law-abiding and industrious Negro, but at the Negro slave-drivers of which Russell was at the head, and assured them that the day of election for them was really a day of emancipation from corrupt party leaders.  (Editor In Politics, Josephus Daniels, pp. 311-312.)

The following excerpt from a 1912 biography of Charles Brantley Aycock is illustrative of the political climate of the 1890’s in North Carolina and helps explain why a racial division existed.

(Charles Brantley Aycock was born 1 November 1859 in Wayne County, North Carolina and was a graduate of the University of North Carolina. He was unanimously nominated for Governor on 11 April 1900 and on 2 August 1900 was elected with the largest majority over opposition ever given a candidate in North Carolina. A most tactful and kindly gentleman, his manner of dealing with a drunken man in Craven County well illustrates his ability in this regard. Mr. H.B. Hardy tells the story: “While Aycock was speaking, a very ardent Republican, made still more ardent by imbibing corn juice kept interrupting him, and was inclined to make a scene; whereupon some of the crowd tried to keep the man quiet. The Governor stopped in the midst of his speech and said: “Let him alone, he aint bothering me. He is a good fellow and will be alright as soon as he gets clear of some of that radicalism, and I’ll bet a dollar he will vote the Democratic ticket in November.”)

Chapter V, The Menace of Negro Suffrage

“The Life and Speeches of Charles B. Aycock” R.D.W. Conner and Clarence Pope: 1912, Doubleday, Page & Company

Gov. Charles B. Aycock

He was passionately interested in good government; therefore it will be necessary to write plainly of the system of State and local administration which he was so largely responsible in overthrowing. He believed that the only hope of good government in North Carolina, and the other Southern States, rested upon the assured political supremacy of the white race; therefore the effect of Negro supremacy in the political affairs of North Carolina must be clearly explained. The great political movements of which he was Democracy’s chosen leader have now passed into history, and as history we shall attempt to describe them.

Aycock was a Democrat, no less in the partisan than in the general meaning of the term and no man has described what the term meant to him better than himself. Said he:

“I am a Democrat. I am not a conservative or a reactionary Democrat. I am not a progressive Democrat, for the word “Democrat” with me is a noun substantive of so fine and large import that it admits of no addition or dimunition of any qualifying word or phrase. What is a Democrat? He is an individualist. He believes in the right of every man to be and to make of himself what God has put into him. He is a man who believes and practices the doctrine of equal rights and the duty and obligation of seeing to it as far as he can, that no man shall be denied the chances in life that God intended him to have. He is a man who believes in the declaration of Independence, and who is filled with that spirit of equality that has made this country of ours the refuge of the oppressed of all the world and the hope of this age and of all ages to come. ….Equal! That is the word. On that word I plant myself and my party---the equal right of any child born on earth to have the opportunity to “burgeon out all that there is within him.”

Herein we have the keynote not only of his professed political faith, but of his entire career of public service. Aycock’s interest in politics began almost in his infancy. He was only six years of age when the War Between the States came to a close and the people of North Carolina found themselves face to face with the task of reorganizing their social and political systems. The situation was full of peril and required the best thought and efforts of patriotic men. The boy Aycock, as we have already related, heard the problems of good government discussed around his father’s fireside, and there learned that good government cannot be secured without the constant, unremitting efforts of the best citizens. He was so accustomed to hearing the terms “Democratic party” and “good government” associated together that he grew up in the firm belief that they were synonomous. As he grew in years the study of American history confirmed his faith in the principles of that party and intensified his predilection for politics. Returning form the University in 1880 full of youthful enthusiasm, he plunged at once into the political contests of his own community, and before he was of age canvassed Wayne County in the interest of the Democratic party. Form that year until his death probably no campaign was waged in that County in which his voice was not heard in support of party principles; and for many years it was customary for him to bring each campaign to a close by a speech in Goldsboro on the night before the election.

His reputation as a campaigner soon extended beyond the borders of his own County, and he was frequently drafted into service by the party in the neighboring Counties. In 1888, he was nominated as the Democratic candidate for district elector, and together with his opponent made a throrough canvass of the district. The campaign strengthened Aycock’s powers and developed his sense of humor, of which his earlier speeches, we are told, had given little indication.

The next four years added to his reputation, and in 1892 the State Convention of the Democratic party nominated him for elector-at-large. This nomination brought with it a greater responsibility than usual. The newly organized People’s party, drawing its strength mainly from the Democratic party, had entered the field with full State and national tickets. Low prices of agricultural products due, it was claimed, to the demonetisation of silver; extravagance in the administration of State government, and the “restoration of local self government” in the Counties and towns of the State, were the issues upon which the new party in North Carolina appealed to the people for support. Aycock, in common with other thoughtful men, realized that this movement threatened not merely the success of the Democratic party, but what was of far greater moment, the supremacy of the white race in North Carolina. The system of County government which the Populists vigorously assailed had been made necessary by the presence in many of the eastern Counties of a large and ignorant mass of Negro voters, and was one of the results of the misrule of Reconstruction days. It dated from 1875 when the people, at the instance of the Democratic party, changed the Constitution and authorized the Legislature to provide for the government of the Counties. Under that Constitution a system was provided which did indeed violate the principle of local self-government, but violated it in order that security of life, liberty and property might be maintained. “The Counties of western North Carolina”, as Governor Aycock said, “gave up their much loved right of local government in order to relieve their brethren of the east from the intolerable burden of Negro government.” For twenty years, the Republican party had waged unceasing war against this system, but so long as the majority of white voters of the State remained united their political supremacy in the eastern Counties was in no danger. Bu now, the Populist party, composed mainly of dissatisfied white voters who had left the Democratic party also took up the fight on this issue, and thus began the division of the white voters which eventually resulted in the bad government, violence and bloodshed of 1898, and the adoption of the suffrage amendment of 1900.

Aycock As He Appeared While Governor

Foreseeing the evils which the movement threatened, Aycock threw himself into the campaign of 1892 with all the vigor and energy of which he was capable. Opposed to him was the Populist candidate for elector-at-large, Mr. Marion Butler, and a series of joint discussions was arranged between them. Two opponents could not have differed more in temperament an method. Mr. Butler was deliberate, incisive and dispassionate; Aycock was vigorous, logical and eloquent. Mr. Butler was argumentative and plausible; Aycock simple, direct, never trite nor vulgar, never subtle nor abstruse. It was Mr. Butler’s task to convince, Aycock’s to conciliate. Aycock had the power of putting his case in such a way as not to invite argument, so that his statements seemed to be less an expression of his own views than he conclusions reached by the hearers themselves. No campaign since the Vance-Settle campaign of 1876 had attracted so much attention throughout the State, and the debates were heard by large crowds.

In the campaign of 1892 there were three State and national tickets in the field---Democratic, Republican and Populist---and in this triangular contest the Democrats won. Two years later in 1894, the Populists and Republicans fused their interests and not only elected several congressmen and judges, but, what was far more important, captured the Legislature. In 1896, by the same methods, they secured control of all three branches of the State government and of many of the Counties. The basis of their control was the solid Negro vote estimated at from 120,000 to 125,000. Thus, the people of North Carolina were to see tested again the experiment which had failed during the days of Reconstruction---the effort of a party composed chiefly of a Negro constituency to provide good government for a Commonwealth founded upon an Anglo-Saxon civilization.

Coming to power upon a distinct pledge to restore local self-government to the people of the State, the Fusionists proceeded to carry this pledge into execution. An act (entitled “An act to restore to the people of North Carolina local self-government) was passed which overturned the system of County government then in operation. Whether so intended or not, the new system turned over to the Negro rule the chief city of the State, several important towns and many of the eastern Counties. Then the country saw repeated the scenes which have made the memory of Reconstruction a nightmare to the people of the South. Negro politicians, often illiterate, always ignorant, always corrupt, presided over the inferior courts, dominated County school boards and district school committees, and served as County Commissioners and City Councilmen. They were found on the police force of the State’s chief city, they were made City Attorneys, and they were numbered among the County coroners, deputy sheriffs, and registers of deed. Lawlessness, violence and corruption followed. In some of the Counties the situation became unbearable while in such towns as Wilmington, New Bern and Greenville neither life, nor property, nor woman’s honor was secure. Governor Aycock did not exaggerate the situation when in his inaugural address, he declared that during those years of Negro rule “lawlessness walked the State like a pestilence---death stalked abroad at noonday-“-sleep lay down armed”, the sound of the pistol was more frequent than the song of the mockingbird---the screams of women, fleeing from pursuing brutes closed the gates of our hearts with a shock.”

The historian will not undertake to say that the party in power intended to produce this condition of affairs, but he will say that Governor Aycock was right in his analysis of the situation when he declared: “we have had but two periods of Republican rule in North Carolina---from 1868 to 1870, and from 1896 to 1898. That party contains a large number of respectable white men, but the Negro constitutes two thirds of its voting strength. Government can never be better nor wiser than the average of the virtue and intelligence of the party that governs. The Republicans insist that we have never had Negro rule in North Carolina; that the Republican party elects white men to office, and that this fact gives us a government of white men. Governor Russell in his message to the last Legislature vindicates himself against the charge of appointing Negroes to office and proudly boasts that out of 818 appointments made by him, not more than eight were Negroes. He misses the point which we made, and make against his party; it is not alone that Governor Russell put eight Negroes in office and his party a thousand more, but that the 125,000 Negroes put him in office over the votes of the white men---it is the party behind the officeholder that governs, not the officeholder himself. There is no man in the State today more certainly conscious than Governor Russell that he has failed of his purpose because he had behind him the Negroes of the State and not the white men. We had a white man for governor in 1870 when Counties were declared in a state of insurrection; when innocent men were arrested without warrant by military cutthroats; when the writ of habeas corpus was suspended and the judiciary was exhausted. We had a white man for governor in 1898 when Negroes became intolerably insolent; when ladies were insulted on the public streets; when burglary in our chief city became an every-night occurrence; when sleep “lay down armed” ….when more guns and pistols were sold in the state than had been in the twenty preceding years; when…the Governor and our two Senators were afraid to speak in a city of 25,000 inhabitants. It is the Negro behind the officer, and not the officer only, that constitutes Negro government”.

Such was the situation when the two parties, Democratic and Fusionist---for in State politics the Populists and Republicans formed for the first time but one party---approached the campaign preceding the election of 1898. To many Democrats the situation seemed hopeless. But on May 12, 1898, before the meeting of the Democratic State Convention, Charles B. Aycock and Mr. Locke Craig addressed and immense assemblage of people at Laurinburg and in a language that thrilled their thousands of hearers, drew a graphic picture of the conditions in the State, and appealing to the white people of North Carolina to forget their previous differences, called upon them to unite in putting an end to a situation that was no longer tolerable.

The party planted itself squarely on the single issue of white supremacy and determined upon a vigorous campaign to reunite the white people of the State, drive the Fusionists from power and reestablish good government once and for all in North Carolina. The Fusionists accepted the challenge. Congressman White, the most prominent of the Negro officeholders of the State, struck the keynote of their campaign when in a speech before the Republican State Convention he said: “I am not the only Negro who holds office. There are plenty more being made to order to hold office. We don’t hold as many as we will. The Democrats talk about the colour line and the Negro holding office. I invite the issue.”

Thus the issue was joined. Thoughtful Democrats frankly acknowledged that it was an appeal to race-prejudice, recognized all the evils that it might produce by arousing the worst passions of both races, and admitted that it was full of danger. Bu these were the very grounds upon which they justified their course. It was far better, they declared, to face the issue and settle it once for all than to have it re-occuring every second year with accumulated force and danger each time. And so with grim determination they launched their campaign. The management of the campaign was entrusted to Mr. Furnifold M. Simmons; the voice of the party was Charles B. Aycock.

Furnifold M. Simmons

The campaign determined Aycock’s position as the foremost orator of his generation in North Carolina, and fixed upon him the eyes of his party as its coming leader. He was frequently introduced to the people as “the next governor” and they understood that in the event of Democratic success he was to be the leader who should finish the work of 1898 by leading his party to victory in 1900. For as the day of election approached no one doubted that the Democratic success would lead to such changes in the fundamental law of the State as would eliminate the Negro from politics, and that disenfrancisement of the Negro would be the chief issue in the next campaign. The election resulted in giving the Democrats control of both houses of the Legislature. They interpreted this result as a command from the people that they prepare an amendment to the Constitution that would make white supremacy in North Carolina perpetual. Accordingly such an amendment was prepared and submitted to the voters for ratification at the general election of 1900.

Excerpt: Chapter X:

Aycock The Southerner- His Attitude Toward The Negro And Toward Sectional Issues: “The Life and Speeches of Charles B. Aycock” R.D.W. Conner and Clarence Pope: 1912, Doubleday, Page & Company

Aycock’s attitude toward the Negro, and the Negro question, has already been indicated by the chapters on his 1898 and 1900 campaigns and his administration as Governor, and is further set forth in his speeches published in this volume. The Negroes of North Carolina revere Lincoln, but it did not require as much courage or sacrifice for Lincoln to issue his Emancipation Proclamation as it did for Aycock to stand for the educational rights of the Negro during his administration as Governor.

His object was simply the attainment of justice. The hideous injustice to the white race involved in the Negroes political power was a thing against which his whole nature revolted; but a threatened injustice to the Negro in the proposition to take away the educational rights of the now disarmed and helpless black man---this stirred him just as deeply. He knew, moreover, that no one is ever profited by a violation of justice, and that the justice of taking the ballot from the Negro was a good thing for the black man, and the justice of giving an adequate education to the Negro a good thing for the white man.

Aycock believed in the right of the white man to rule as profoundly as he believed in God. He knew that the instinct of race is divinely implanted; and he could not understand those “advanced Southerners” who professed to believe that the South’s intense race feeling was engendered by in large measure by politicians. Of one such writer he said:

“He breathes the atmosphere of the cloister. He does not know men. Even in history, his specialty, they are dim forms playing on an ideal stage and not men of blood and passions. He does not understand his people. He sees in the race antagonism nothing but political passion. He has not read aright the great unconquerable race instinct. Politics did not make it, politics merely seized it for its purpose. I am bound to admit my surprise at his real ignorance of the depth, the strength and the righteousness of the white man’s attitude toward the Negro. Probably if he would read King Edward’s speech to Parliament he would not regard his own folks so lightly and hold their views in such contempt. In substance King Edward says in reference to South Africa, “my policy toward South Africa shall be one of equality for whites and justice to the blacks.” A superior race can occupy no other attitude.”

From this letter we may crystallize Aycock’s two fundamental doctrines regarding the political relations of the races: One, The white man must rule. Two, He must rule in righteousness. The second proposition he regarded as being as binding as the first. He never forgot the principle of noblesse oblige; never violated that fine definition of a gentleman: “the weaker the man with whom he has to deal, the more scrupulous is his justice; the weaker the woman with whom he has to deal, the more scrupulous in his honor.”

The principle he laid down in his Inaugural Address, “It is true that a superior race cannot submit to the rule of a weaker without injury; it is also true in the long years of God that the strong cannot oppress the weak without destruction” , was but the same to which he had given eloquent utterance in his Speech of Acceptance while the fires of race passion burned fiercest:

“If we fail to administer equal and exact justice to the Negro whom we deprive of suffrage, we shall in the fullness of time lose power ourselves, for we must know that the God, who is love, trusts no people with authority for the purpose of enabling them to do injustice to the weak. We do well to rejoice in our strength and to take delight in our power, but we will do better still when we come fully to know that our right to rule has been transmitted to us by our fathers through centuries of toil and sacrifice, suffering and death, and their work through all these centuries has been a striving to execute judgement in righteousness. That must likewise be our aim, that our labor.”

On no other occasion perhaps did Aycock state his complete conviction regarding the Negro problem with more clearness or conciseness than in his speech before the North Carolina Society in Baltimore, December 18, 1903, and we cannot better close this chapter than by letting him speak his sentiments in his own words. After recounting evidences of recent progress in North Carolina, he said:

“These are some of the reasons for my being proud of North Carolina. I am proud of my State, moreover, because there we have solved the Negro problem which recently seems to have given you some trouble. We have taken him out of politics and have thereby secured good government under any party and laid foundations for the future development of both races. We have secured peace and rendered prosperity a certainty. I am inclined to give to you our solution of this problem. It is, first, as far as possible under the Fifteenth Amendment to disfranchise him; after that let him alone, quit writing about him; quit talking about him, quit making him “the white man’s burden”, let him “tote his own skillet”; quit coddling him, let him learn that no man, no race, ever got anything worth the having that he did not himself earn; that character is the outcome of sacrifice and worth is the result of toil; that whatever his future may be, the present has in it for him nothing that is not the product of industry, thrift, obedience to law and uprightness; that he cannot by resolution of council or league, accomplish anything; that he can do much by work; that violence may gratify his passions but it cannot accomplish his ambitions; that he may eat rarely of the cooking of equality, but he will always find that when he does that “there is death in the pot”. Let the Negro learn once for all that there is an unending separation of the races, that the two peoples may develop side by side to the fullest but that they cannot intermingle; let the white man determine that no man shall by act or though or speech cross this line, and the race problem will be at an end. These things are not said in enmity to the Negro but in regard for him. He constitutes one-third of the population of my State: he has always been my personal friend; as a lawyer I have often defended him, and as Governor I have frequently protected him. But there flows in my veins the blood of the dominant race; that race that has conquered the earth and seeks out the mysteries of the heights and the depths. If manifest destiny leads to the seizure of Panama, it is certain that it likewise leads to the dominance of the Caucasian. When the Negro recognizes this fact we shall have peace and good will between the races.

But I would not have the white people forget their duty to the Negro. We must seek the truth and pursue it. We owe an obligation to “the man in black”; we brought him here; he served us well; he is patient and teachable. We owe him gratitude; above all we owe him justice. We cannot forget his fidelity and we ought not to magnify his faults; we cannot change his color, neither can we ignore his service. No individual ever “rose on stepping stones of dead” others “to higher things”, and no people can. We must rise by ourselves but see to it that the Negro has an opportunity for education. As a white man I am afraid of but one thing fro my race and that is that we shall become afraid to give the Negro a fair chance. The first duty of every man is to develop himself to the uttermost and the only limitation upon his duty is that he shall take pains to see that in his own development he does no injustice to those beneath him. This is true of races as well as individuals. Considered properly it is not a limitation but a condition of development. The white man in the South can never attain to his fullest growth until he does absolute justice to the Negro race. If he is doing that now, it is well for him. If he is not doing it, he must seek to know the ways of truth and pursue them. My own opinion is, that so far we have done well, and that the future holds no menace for us if we do the duty which lies next to us, training, developing the coming generation, so that the problems which seem difficult to us shall be easy to them.”

Email: editor@1898wilmington.hypermart.net